Saudi man investigated after Boston Marathon speaks out


A woman pauses near the Boston Marathon finish line, not far from where Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi was walking when the bombs went off. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The "easy-going, good humored" Saudi Arabian student who briefly became an object of intense suspicion after the Boston bombings broke two months of silence this week, telling The Islamic Monthly that media attention since the attacks "double injured" him.

Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi's interview, which is worth hearing in full, sheds more light on the messy investigative aftermath of the attacks, which saw several men -- many of African and Middle Eastern descent -- wrongly accused in the media and on the Internet.

Alharbi, a Saudi Arabian student who won a full scholarship to study English in Boston, was injured in the blast and questioned immediately on his arrival in the hospital. He told TIM that more than 20 FBI agents and Boston police officers surrounded him, demanding his name, address and Facebook password even as nurses tried to stop his bleeding.

He says he wasn't permitted any phone calls and wasn't asked if he had a lawyer for more than 24 hours; his father, who lives in Saudi Arabia, found out about his son's injuries on Twitter.

Police eventually cleared Alharbi of any wrongdoing. But investigators took his wallet, and Alharbi relied on the Saudi embassy for food and a hotel. He told TIM that he has continued to receive death threats and hate mail to the degree that he has not moved back to his house or resumed his normal life. And the experience has left him with some lingering questions:

“They were really scared of me. I am injured, I don’t have anything and they asked me “What you have in your hand!” I told them “Nothing, it’s just a napkin!” and I throw it to them and they were like “ahh!” ...

 

All the police officers and the FBI … and all the nurses and all the doctors were staring at me … I was looking [at] them like, is it because of the color of my skin or is it because of the name of my country?”

Alharbi was one of two Saudis injured in the attacks, and one of several men falsely accused in the aftermath. One teenager, a Moroccan immigrant and local track star, appeared on the cover of the New York Post under the caption "BAG MEN." The teen's father has said his son now only sleeps one or two hours a night and sometimes refuses to go to school. The family is considering a lawsuit.

Amina Chaudary, the editor in chief of TIM, has also called for a legal inquiry into Alharbi's case.

"His name and ID were initially only with the FBI and authorities questioning him," she wrote in the text accompanying Alharbi's interview, questioning how the media got his name. "The leak, regardless of where it came from, must be investigated and we must be sure this never happens again."

Currently, the Justice Department has other leaks to deal with. And as the Post's Max Fisher wrote in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, "an inclination to examine every possible lead" is "a natural human response to tragedy." But that doesn't make stories like Alharbi's any less important.

"I still don't blame them to this moment," he told TIM of the FBI's suspicion -- but his life has irreversibly changed. "I don’t know if I’m going to continue my studies. I came in to study my bachelor’s, I have full scholarship from my country, I don’t know if I am gonna be safe from other people. Because, I lost my privacy. So that’s why I am really scared. So it’s not [an] easy thing to just forget."

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey · May 24, 2013