Chechens Fight Article After Marathon Bombing | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Chechens Fight Article After Marathon Bombing

BOSTON (CN) - ABC defamed a Chechen family living in Massachusetts by implying that they supported radicalized Islamist terrorists, they claim in a federal complaint.

Hamzat Umarov filed the complaint Thursday with his four children, nearly two years after reporter Michele McPhee wrote an article for ABC that described one of the daughters, Heda Umarov, as a friend of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

A picture of Heda and Tsarnaev sits atop the March 4, 2014, article, which says she was wanted for questioning by U.S. counterterrorism officials "after she traveled to Chechnya last year and is believed to have since posted 'alarming' jihadi imagery online."

"No one is calling Heda a terrorist but her travel has certainly garnered some attention," the article says quoting an anonymous source in law enforcement. "People are concerned that a 23-year-old is in Chechnya, a country that she fled from ... and now she is deciding to stay on her own."

Noting that Dhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were ethnic Chechens who radicalized in the United States, the article says officials worried that Heda could be on a similar path.

But the Umarovs say "no federal officials have ever sought Heda, questioned her whereabouts, or expressed any concern whatsoever about her decision to remain in Chechnya."

Disputing the allegation that Heda posted jihadi imagery to Russian social networks, the Umarovs note that "the name 'Heda Umarova' is common in Russia."

The Umarovs concede that they knew the Tsarnaev family in Massachusetts, but say Heda was no "friend" of Dzhokhar.

Indeed when the Tsarnaev brothers were linked to the terrorist attack at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the Umarovs contacted Chelsea police themselves "to offer any assistance they could with the investigation," according to the complaint.

All U.S. citizens, the Umarovs say they cooperated fully with the FBI's investigation but traveled to Chechnya in the summer as planned to visit family.

Heda did not return home with the family because she had met a man and wanted to pursue a relationship with him there, according to the complaint.

Dzhokhar is on death row for the marathon bombing he carried out with his brother, who died in a firefight with police days after the attacks.

Though the ABC article questioned the ability of the unmarried Heda to support herself abroad, the Umarovs say it was not correct to say "she didn't have any 'obvious means' of support insomuch as she was living with family."

"On information and belief, it is false that Heda's travel had garnered any attention beyond that of McPhee, or ever 'raised eyebrows,'" the complaint states.

The Umarovs say McPhee hounded them for an interview but that they refused her, "on the advice of the FBI."

They also dispute a sentence in McPhee's article that described Heda's younger brothers, Adam and Junes Umarov, as "under suspicion ... because of their online support for the Tsarnaev brothers," the complaint states.

"Neither Adam nor Junes have been under suspicion by any authorities, nor have they ever expressed "support" for the Tsarnaev brothers," the complaint states.

In addition to McPhee, ABC News and McPhee Productions, the Umarovs' lawsuit takes aim at other outlets that picked up the story.

The Daily Mail, News Corp, the New York Daily News and the anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller are all named as defendants, along with DMG Media and Heavy Inc.

As a result of the articles, Hamzat Umarov lost his job, his children have had their reputations tarnished, and Hawa Umarov's boyfriend broke up with her, according to the complaint.

Though Cambridge attorney Mark McMahon drafted and signed the complaint, it also says he is "not attorney of record."

Neither McPhee nor ABC News responded to an email seeking comment.

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