‘I’m NOT a terrorist… I was just watching the marathon:’ Moroccan high school runner is wrongly linked to Boston bombings after photograph of him at finishing line sweeps the internet

April 20, 2013 2:23 pm 1 comment Views: 1669

A teenage boy wrongly identified as a Boston bombing suspect fought back tears as he told how he begged police to help him clear his name.

Sulahaddin Barhoum clutched a handful of his own running medals on a red, white and blue ribbon as he told MailOnline of his terror at being falsely accused.

The 17-year-old Moroccan, who moved to the U.S. with his family four years ago, said: ‘Late last night friends started calling and emailing me – they said my photo was all over the internet, that I was a suspect in the Boston bombing.


Innocent: Track star Sulahaddin Barhoum, 17, pictured with his sports bag and running trophies is terrified that claims he was a Boston marathon bomb suspect have put his family in danger

I was terrified, I have never been in trouble and I feared for my security,’ he said.

‘At 1.30am I called a friend to take me to the state police – I walked in to the lobby and told them I thought I was wanted by the FBI. They didn’t know what to make of it.

‘I had my papers with me and I gave them my social security number so they could check me out.

‘They didn’t even take me into a private room. They made some calls, then said I was free to go.

He continued: ‘I was there about 25 minutes but I was very frightened. I still am – my photograph is all over the internet and I worry that someone, a mad person, might come after me and my family.

‘I have two little sisters, aged three and seven, and a 15-year-old brother. We have no protection.’

Sulahaddin and his ‘hero’ running coach were spotted by security cameras moving around near the finish line of Monday’s marathon before the bomb blasts.

The coach, who is in his mid-thirties, was wearing a white baseball cap and black jacket. Sulahaddin wore a blue tracksuit top. Both were carrying backpacks as they jockied to get the best spectator position.

‘We were there to watch the fastest runners,’ said Sulahhadin, who has represented his school and South Boston at track events.

Track star: 17-year-old Sulahaddin moved to America four years ago with his father, mother, younger brother and two little sisters

‘We kept moving about to try and get a better position. This was the first time I had actually been to a marathon – usually I watch it on TV.

‘We are planning to run the New York marathon in November and I wanted to see the Boston race for real.

‘As the fastest runners crossed the finish line we were trying to find a good spot because it was so packed with people.

‘We stood by Dunkin’ Donuts, then we moved by another shop, some tents and, I think, a fire station.

‘We left after the fastest runners had gone by – I think it was about two hours before the bombs went off.

‘Later I went home on the subway and my mom was trying to call me to make sure I was ok because the bombs had gone off.’

Sulaheddin, who has taken part in junior Olympic championships and is a member of Momentum Athletic Club, said he was upset about the bombings but didn’t follow the news about the FBI investigation.

Glory: The high school student runs for his school and the south Boston area in competitions

He said: ‘I had school the next day. Then last night around 9.30pm I started getting messages on Facebook from friends. I think there were 204 messages in all – everyone saying I was photographed as a suspect.

I called my friend as I did not know what to do. He said he was going to the FBI. I decided to go to the nearest State Police.

‘Like me, he was only with the FBI for about 30 minutes. No one seems quite sure how our photos got out there and we were identified as suspects.

‘It has been so horrible and I am still very frightened. I did not sleep last night and today I had a race – it was a disaster because I could not focus.

Finger-pointing: Sulahaddin Barhoum, pictured with his coach, right, had his picture sweep the internet after they were picked out from the crowd at the Boston Marathon

‘One day I would like to be in the Olympics. I run for my school in Revere and for South Boston now as this is my home and I would like to run for America one day.

He described his coach as a ‘hero’, adding: ‘He is a coach and mentor to me. He represented Boston in the 1500 meters at the New England Championships. His speed is terrific and he is helping me build that up.

‘I have never run a marathon yet – I haven’t tried to run 26 miles in one go but I think I could as I train by running at least 40 miles a week.’

Sulaheddin, who lives with his family in a small flat in the Boston seaside town of Revere, was tearful and jumpy when he spoke to MailOnline.

He said he feared strangers attacking him or his little sisters because of the internet accusations.

His father El Houssein Barhoum, a 43-year-old baker, was doing an overnight work shift when his wife called to say Sulaheddin had gone to the police.

Track star: Salah Barhoum, 17, said on Thursday that he had gone to the marathon with a friend because he loves running but had nothing to do with the terrorist attack

Local kid: The 17-year-old came forward to let people know he had nothing to do with the attack

Questions raised: Internet commentators raised questions about the men because of their bags, which seemed to be heavy

Mr Barhoum told MailOnline: ‘I told my boss I had to go – I didn’t say why, just a family emergency. I was so worried because I thought he had gone by himself.

‘He is a good boy – I knew he could not be responsible but you do worry that he could have been wrongly accused.

‘He has never been in trouble at school or at home. He lives to run and he is already getting calls from colleges wanting to sponsor him. Today he is worried that our family are not safe because of the accusations.

‘We came from El Jadida, a small coastal town in Morroco, for a better life in America. Everyone has been very welcoming and my son is living his American dream. All he thinks about is running.’

After seeing photos of himself online and speaking to the authorities on Wednesday, Sulaheddin took to Facebook to clear his name after reportedly making contact with authorities, saying: ‘Going to the court right now!! S*** is real. But u will see guys I’m did not do anything’.

Several hours later on Wednesday evening, he posted again: ‘back home! everything is fake but god is with me.’

Late Thursday the FBI released images of men they want to question in connection to the bombings.



After Sulaheddin’s photo was distributed rapidly, new claims emerged on social media sites that they were innocent bystanders.

Anonymous sources from online community Reddit said that they were ‘friends’ of the man in the blue tracksuit, and said that he was ‘just a high school kid that loves track’.

From there, reports range from saying that the man beside him in the white hat is his coach to others asserting that the ‘kid’ does not know the man. Neither man has been publicly identified by name.

The supposed acquaintances on Reddit said that the man in the black track suit spoke with police, who then called the FBI.

‘Both are scared, the guy in this pic will miss school tomorrow, where hs competing for some track competition, the other guy will miss work,’ Reddit user ‘desert_morning’ posted early on Thursday.

Friends defended him on Internet forums saying he was a high school track runner who had gone to watch the marathon on Monday with his coach.

Several posted concerns, with one remark reading:  ‘Careful dude, the whole Internet is watching you right about now.’

The Moroccan-American teenager describes himself on Facebook as a keen runner and member of his high school track team. The teen works at Subway and posts that he is a fan of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hunger Games and Hannah Montana.

Coach: The 24-year-old track coach is said to be the one standing next to the teenage runner at the marathon


Questions: The pair were never identified as suspects and they tried to clear their name

On his Facebook profile, which has since been made private, he posted pictures in the crowd along the race route on Boylston Street close to a large screen broadcasting the marathon.

The two people pictured – including the Moroccan-American teenager – are not considered suspects.

As internet commentators searched for clues using the pictures of the two men to jump to their own conclusions about what role if any they played in the attack on Monday, FBI officials told MailOnline that official photos would be released later on Thursday.

This picture was taken from exactly the same angle as the camera from Lord and Taylor which is believed to have shown someone walking towards the mail box before dropping a package and walking away


NBC reported that footage showed one man who ‘dashed away’ from one of the two bombing sites.

‘Every hour we’re closer, and I say that because we’ve got the very best professionals at every level working this. And working it hard,’ Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick said.

Because of the crowded nature of the finish line, authorities are parsing through a combination of civilian footage and security tapes from nearby businesses.

Reports of surveillance footage from a nearby Lord and Taylor’s department store gave initial hope about having the suspects pictured.

Tragic: The third victim of the blast was identified as graduate student Lu Lingzi, 23, whose family are now on their way from China to the U.S. to claim her body


Krystle Campbell. Campbell, 29, (left) a restaurant manager from Medford, Mass., was among the people killed in the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon as was eight-year-old Martin Richard (right)

‘It’s a crowd, there are a lot of different angles. It is not like some television-produced video — there’s a lot that isn’t clear, but most interpretations support the notion that one man is seen dropping a bag,’ an unidentified official told The New York Times.

‘There are several videos with people in them, and we’re looking to talk to more than one guy. It’s still very squishy but there are a lot of interesting people.’

According to CBS News senior correspondent John Miller the big debate right now among law enforcement is whether to release the images of the men to the public.

‘It’s been a tough call,’ said Miller. ‘For investigators, there’s always a difficult choice because if the person doesn’t know you’re looking for him, he may stay in place, you may catch up to him,’ said Miller.

‘If he does know you’re looking for him, he may run. On the other hand, if you don’t get him, it’s always great to enlist 20 million or so more eyes in the public who may be able to give you a location right away.

‘That’s not going to happen tonight anymore. It was going to happen earlier — they’ve rethought that. It may happen with the release of that picture tomorrow. They’re reassessing.’

Another avenue of the investigation is a list of cell phone logs that authorities are trolling through to determine who made calls from that location near the time of the explosions.

The pressure cooker lid was found on top of the Charlesmark Hotel which is 35 yards away from the explosion site – such was the force of the blast

The FBI is working with a list of names of cell phone owners and attempting to match one of those to the unknown man on the surveillance.

Authorities have said they are seeking this man either as a witness or indeed as a possible suspect and do not know his name. At this point, federal officials stressed no arrests have been made.

City Council President Stephen Murphy, who said he was briefed by Boston police, said investigators saw the image on surveillance footage they got from a department store near the finish line and matched the findings with witness descriptions of someone leaving the scene.

‘I know it’s very active and very fluid right now — that they are on the chase,’ Murphy said. He added: ‘They may be on the verge of arresting someone, and that’s good.’

The bombs were crudely fashioned from ordinary kitchen pressure cookers packed with explosives, nails and ball bearings, investigators and others close to the case said. Investigators suspect the devices were then hidden in black duffel bags and left on the ground.

As a result, they were looking for images of someone lugging a dark, heavy bag.

Second Bomb: Photos show a bag next to a mailbox along the marathon route and may have been the footage used by the FBI to positively ID a suspect

Shocking: Seconds after the bombs went off on Boylston Street there is no sign of the bag, the picture is blurred because of the graphic nature of the content

On Tuesday, crime scene photographs of the remnants of the first bomb which detonated during Monday’s Boston marathon showed that a six-liter pressure cooker was used in at least one of the deadly charges – and experts described the devices as military-style ‘anti-personnel’ devices.

The images – released by the Joint Terrorist Task Force – show the wreckage of a stainless steel pressure cooker with an Underwriters Laboratory safety mark and an imprint that reads gas or electric.

Furthermore, it was claimed the deadly devices used were designed to act like ‘homemade claymores’ – powerful, directional anti-personnel devices.

Described as using a ‘low explosive’, most likely black or smokeless powder, the bombs are reported to have exploded outwards with shrapnel at 3,300 feet per second. The lid of a pressure cooker was found on a nearby rooftop and investigators were able to pinpoint which type of cooker was used.

One brand of pressure cooker with ‘6L’ on the bottom is made by the Spanish company Fagor, which sells about 50,000 of the six-liter pots in the United States every year.

Roy Parker, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agent who ­developed the agency’s explosives training program, said examiners are looking at scraps of the bomb components, bags and all other forensic evidence.

He said: ‘You’re looking for a needle in a haystack, but the needle is there. If you look long enough, you’ll get stuck with it. This is not an unsolvable crime.’

Another avenue of the investigation is a list of cell phone logs that authorities are trolling through to determine who made calls from that location near the time of the explosions.

The FBI is working with a list of names of cell phone owners and attempting to match one of those to the unknown man on the surveillance.

  • Sulahaddin Barhoum, 17, moved to the US with his family four years ago
  • He said: ‘I worry that someone, a mad person, might come after me and my family’
  • The teenager is a keen runner who one day hopes to run in the Olympics

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