California authorities arrested a pro-Palestinian college professor on Thursday in connection with the death of a Jewish man during rival demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said 50-year-old Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji was booked into jail for investigation of involuntary manslaughter.
Paul Kessler, 69, died early November 6 at a hospital following a November 5 confrontation with Alnaji in Thousand Oaks, a suburb northwest of Los Angeles.
Police allege that Alnaji caused Kessler to knock his head onto the concrete when he fell, which resulted in brain hemorrhaging that would kill him hours later in the hospital.
Alnaji stayed at the scene and told deputies he had called 911, Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said last week.
Kessler was among a group of pro-Israel demonstrators who showed up at the event that was advertised as a peaceful gathering to support Palestinians. About 75 people in total were there and patrols in the area reported seeing no indication of violence 15 minutes before the altercation, officials said.
Loay Alnaji (L) the alleged suspect in the death of 69-year-old Paul Kessler, a Jewish man, carries a megaphone in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy Of Jonathan Oswaks) pic.twitter.com/KllzQAgpS4
— Judy (@JudyorJulia) November 11, 2023
Police briefly detained Alnaji earlier this month for questioning but let him go because they did not have sufficient evidence against him at the time to make an arrest.
Officials had said investigators were getting conflicting information from witnesses on both sides about what took place before the fall and had not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.
Authorities did not say what new evidence they uncovered led to Thursday’s arrest and police said in a statement that they are still crowdsourcing for additional footage anyone might have from the moments before Kessler hit the ground and were offering a $1,000 reward.
Alnaji is a computer science professor at Ventura County Community College’s Moorpark campus.
Fox News reported that Alnaji shared a video on his since-deleted Instagram account that featured a pro-Palestinian activist who compared the Hamas terror group to civil rights leaders Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
In a statement later Thursday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said it was grateful for law enforcement’s swift response, adding that the arrest “shows that violence towards our Jewish community will not be tolerated.”
Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions are escalating in the United States, with 75 percent of American Jews reporting in a new poll that they are either very or somewhat concerned about safety and security inside their communities as the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza enters its second month.
The war was triggered on October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel via the destroyed Gaza border fence, unleashing a massacre in southern Israel. The terror group killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took at least 245 hostages.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, and launched an operation carried out by air and on the ground. The Gaza health ministry has reported more than 10,000 deaths since October 7, but the numbers cannot be independently verified and are thought to include the terror group’s own members, as well as civilians killed by misfired rockets.