Professor charged in death of Jewish pro-Israel protester at dueling LA war rallies

Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji indicted for involuntary manslaughter after causing ‘great bodily injury’ on Paul Kessler; additional charges for hate crime may still be considered

Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, charged in the death of pro-Israel protester Paul Kessler on November 5, 2023 outside Los Angeles. (Ventura County Sheriff's Department)
Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, charged in the death of pro-Israel protester Paul Kessler on November 5, 2023 outside Los Angeles. (Ventura County Sheriff's Department)

A US college professor was charged Thursday with involuntary manslaughter and battery in the death of a Jewish protester during Southern California demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war.

Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko said in a statement that both charges have special allegations that Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, personally inflicted “great bodily injury” on Paul Kessler, 69, during a confrontation at an event that started as a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Thousand Oaks, a suburb northwest of Los Angeles.

Involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person.

A man who answered the phone at a mobile number listed for Alnaji in public records said he did not want to comment. He did not give his name.

Kessler was among a group of pro-Israel demonstrators who showed up at the event on November 5 that was advertised as a peaceful gathering to support Palestinians, officials said. About 75 people in total were there and patrols in the area reported seeing no indication of violence 15 minutes before the altercation happened. Kessler died early November 6 at a hospital, a day after the protest.

The district attorney did not explain what evidence they had to support those charges but planned a news conference for Friday.

Paul Kessler protests in solidarity with Israel outside Los Angeles on November 5, 2023. (Courtesy; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff told reporters on November 7 that deputies determined Kessler fell backward and struck his head on the ground but that investigators did not have a clear view from video footage of what they described as a physical altercation between the two men before the fall. He asked the public for help in providing additional footage.

Fryhoff said at that time that investigators had not ruled out the possibility of it being a hate crime.

The suspect stayed at the scene and told deputies he had called 911, Fryhoff said, adding that authorities later briefly detained him for questioning and searched his home in Moorpark.

Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, at the scene of the incident in which pro-Israel protester Paul Kessler was killed on November 5, 2023 outside Los Angeles (screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright law)

Fryhoff said investigators had received conflicting information from witnesses on both sides about what took place, impairing witness credibility and making it difficult to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The department did not respond to questions Thursday from The Associated Press as to whether additional footage or other evidence prompted the arrest.

A short video clip surfaced showing Kessler on the ground, but there haven’t been any videos released showing the actual confrontation.

County Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young said at the time that an autopsy found Kessler died from head injuries consistent with a fall. Young also said Kessler had injuries that could be consistent with a blow to the face but that it was unclear what caused his fall.

Elena Colomba draws a Star of David at a Thousand Oaks, California, street corner where a Jewish pro-Israel protester, Paul Kessler, was killed during an altercation, November 7, 2023. (Jacob Gurvis/JTA)

Before Alnaji was charged, Edward Obayashi, a former San Diego police officer and special prosecutor, said he was not surprised by the arrest on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, the lowest level charge for a death. Additional charges, including for a hate crime, could still be considered, said Obayashi, who made one of the first arrests in the state under California’s hate crime law more than three decades ago.

“We have a very high-profile incident, obviously, given the backdrop of what’s going on in the world,” he said. “So there is a lot of pressure on the authorities. The default position is making an arrest.”

Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions are escalating in the United States as the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war.

Alnaji, a professor of computer science at Moorpark College, had espoused pro-Palestinian views on his Facebook page and other social media accounts, many of which have since been taken down, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said in a statement that it was grateful for the work of sheriff’s investigators.

“This arrest shows that violence towards our Jewish community will not be tolerated,” the federation said.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, California, called it “a tragic situation that is indicative of a very unfortunate accident that no one intended to happen.”

“We now await the criminal justice system’s process and result and wish that truth and justice will prevail,” he said. “We reiterate our strong support for the right of First Amendment political debate, protest, and speech and our unequivocal rejection of all violence, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or incitement of hatred.”

Chief of Police Jeremy Paris, left, joined by Chief Medical Examiner Ventura Dr. Christopher Young, center, as Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff takes questions at a news conference at the Ventura Sheriff’s East County Station in Thousand Oaks, California, Nov. 7, 2023. (AP/Richard Vogel)

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 some 240 hostages.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and launched an operation carried out by air, sea and on the ground. The Gaza health ministry has reported more than 11,500 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.

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