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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday apologized for publishing a story about the 1994 shooting of rapper Tupac Shakur, after a Web site questioned the authenticity of documents the paper used for the report.
The story by Pulitzer Prize-winner Chuck Philips sought to link rap music mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs to the assault on Shakur through two men the paper said were Combs' associates.
Shortly after its publication last week, Combs called the Times story "beyond ridiculous and ... completely false." He strongly denied any involvement in the attack.
The Smoking Gun, a Web site that specializes in uncovering news from legal documents and court filings, said on Wednesday it believed Federal Bureau of Investigation documents used by the Times were forgeries.
The paper launched an immediate investigation, and Philips issued an apology later in the day, as did his supervisor, deputy managing editor Marc Duvoisin.
"In relying on documents that I now believe were fake, I failed to do my job," Philips said. "I'm sorry."
Los Angeles Times editor Russ Stanton, who took the top job last month after several years of cutback-related upheaval at the fourth-largest paper in the United States, said he would launch an internal review of the documents and the reporting surrounding the story.
"We published this story with the sincere belief that the documents were genuine, but our good intentions are beside the point," Stanton said in a statement published on the paper's Web site.
"The bottom line is that the documents we relied on should not have been used. We apologize both to our readers and to those referenced in the documents and, as a result, in the story. We are continuing to investigate this matter and will fulfill our journalistic responsibility for critical self-examination."
Shakur, one of rap's rising singers, survived a beating and gunshot wounds to the groin, head, hand and thigh at the Quad Recording Studios in New York City in 1994 but was killed in 1996 in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.
The Smoking Gun story -- posted at www.thesmokinggun.com -- said the FBI documents were created by one of the subjects in the Times' report, James Sabatino, who is now in jail for wire fraud and racketeering.
The documents have black marks covering the name of the agent or agents who prepared them, appear as if parts were created using a typewriter and "are nowhere to be found" in the FBI's computer system, according to The Smoking Gun.
The Times story, which first appeared on its Web site on March 17 and days later in print, gave a detailed account of the 1994 attack on Shakur.
At the time, Combs was one of rap's biggest producers with his Bad Boy Records housing stars like the Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace).
The 1994 attack ignited a widely reported feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers that eventually led to the 1996 killing of Shakur. Six months later, Wallace was shot and killed in Los Angeles.
Neither of the murders has been solved. The identity of Shakur's attackers at Quad Studios has never been revealed.
The Times story cited "recently obtained" FBI records and an unnamed FBI informant as saying Sabatino and talent manager Jimmy Rosemond planned Shakur's assault. Combs and Wallace knew Shakur was being set up, the Times said.
In its story, the Times said it contacted the FBI informant and verified he was at Quad Studios on the night of the assault. It said other sources verified the informant's account.
Rosemond's attorney, Marc Lichtman, was quoted by the paper on Wednesday as saying that Philips and his editors should "take out their checkbooks -- or brace themselves for an epic lawsuit."
Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Beech