Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi In His Own Voice
Interviewed by Amina Chaudary, TIM Editor-in-Chief, in Boston, MA
What Really Happened?
The Bomb, The FBI and The Media
by: Amina Chaudary
Since the tragic Boston bombings, the news media have been saturated with stories: about the victims, about the runners and about the bombers. But one important story still needs to be told: That of the Saudi man-or-suspect-or-person-of-interest identified in the immediate aftermath of the bombings who was eventually determined to be only a witness.
His name is Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi, a Saudi national who won a full scholarship from Saudi Arabia to study in America. He arrived here on a student visa in February 2012 to study English for a year before applying for college. He describes himself as shy and incredibly focused on his studies and he likes to stay out of the limelight. His friends in Boston also describe him as easy-going, good humored and good hearted.
He was on his way to meet friends for lunch when he was injured by the second explosion at the marathon finish line. The force of the explosion threw him to the street, tearing his jeans and covering him in the blood of other injured people around him. He suffered from burn wounds on his head, back and legs. He did not have burn marks on his hands as many news organizations reported that made bystanders suspect him. After interviewing Alharbi, we can now understand there to be two distinct versions of the story: what the media said about him referencing “sources” and “authorities,” and what he exclusively told The Islamic Monthly (TIM).
At 4:28 p.m. on Marathon Monday, less than two hours after the explosions, the New York Post was the first to announce that this individual was “a suspect” and “under guard.” The same report also erroneously stated that authorities said 12 people had been killed and up to 50 injured. The facts were clearly not available, but the media seemed far too excited about the potential suspect to temper itself. That evening, CBS correspondent and former FBI associate director John Miller stated that after the bombs went off, a spectator noticed that Alharbi was “acting suspiciously” and tackled him to the ground; other media reports continued this same narrative, citing these early, and what we now know to be erroneous, reports.
In this TIM exclusive, Alharbi responds: “No, no one arrested me, no one tackled me. All the people were trying to escape from what happened because they realized that there was something dangerous [at] the finish line.”
He said that no one looked at him suspiciously and that a runner noticed him walking in the street covered in blood and offered to help him walk. A police officer directed him, and all the other injured capable of walking, to the ambulances. The runner helped him on the emergency vehicle, but three other officers jumped on as well.
Within a few minutes of arriving at the hospital, the FBI and Boston Police surrounded his bed. “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?”
He was under guard and unable to communicate with any friends or family for the first 24 hours. His father, residing in Saudi Arabia, found out about his injury and subsequent questioning through Twitter. Abdulrahman remained cooperative with