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Man Is Arrested in Death of Jewish Protester Paul Kessler After California Altercation

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A California community college professor was arrested on Thursday in the case of a pro-Israel protester who died after an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester amid dueling demonstrations in Southern California this month, the authorities said.

The professor, Loay Alnaji, 50, was arrested in Moorpark, Calif., on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter in the death of the protester, Paul Kessler, 69, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. His bail was to be set at $1 million.

It has been more than a week since Mr. Kessler died, a case that fueled already rising tensions and attracted international attention. The medical examiner determined that Mr. Kessler had died from blunt force trauma to the back of his head and ruled it a homicide, which meant that another person was involved.

Jim Fryhoff, the Ventura County sheriff, asked for calm last week as his office investigated whether Mr. Kessler’s death should be criminally charged as a homicide and hate crime.

Sheriff Fryhoff is expected to speak at a news conference on Friday along with the Ventura County district attorney, Erik Nasarenko, according to a spokesman for the district attorney’s office. Official charges are expected to be announced later on Thursday.

“Throughout their investigation, prosecutors have been in daily consultation with the Sheriff’s Office and are finalizing review of the evidence,” the spokesman said in a statement.

News of the arrest quickly spread within the local Jewish and Muslim communities.

“This arrest shows that violence toward our Jewish community will not be tolerated,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the case to help ensure justice is served. Our heartfelt condolences continue to be with the family of Paul Kessler, and may his memory forever be a blessing.”

The competing rallies took place on Nov. 5 in Thousand Oaks, a suburb about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, at a main intersection with heavy traffic that has served as the backdrop for past protests. About 100 people had arrived and Mr. Kessler was standing on the same corner as a Shell gas station, holding an Israeli flag.

Witnesses said Mr. Kessler had gotten into an argument with a pro-Palestinian demonstrator and fell during the altercation, sustaining a head injury, according to the sheriff. Mr. Kessler was conscious and responsive when law enforcement officers arrived at the scene, and at the hospital when they spoke to him again, the sheriff said.

But Mr. Kessler died hours later, in the early morning hours of Nov. 6.

The next day, the authorities said it was not “exactly crystal clear” how he had died. They said that surveillance footage and other video from the scene did not provide a clear view of the encounter, and that witnesses had given conflicting statements.

The Jewish Federation said in its initial statement last week that Mr. Kessler had died after being “struck in the head by a megaphone wielded by a pro-Palestinian protester,” an explanation that circulated quickly among members of the Jewish community. Jonathan Oswaks, a witness who was supporting Israel at the protest, said in an interview that he saw the pro-Palestinian protester swing a megaphone at Mr. Kessler but was not sure if he had been struck.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office did not specify on Thursday which actions by Mr. Alnaji had led to his arrest.

Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in an interview on Thursday that it was unclear what had prompted the arrest of Mr. Alnaji. The sheriff said last week that the pro-Palestinian demonstrator involved in the altercation had made one of the 911 calls and remained at the scene.

“He’s a professor, not a violent person,” Mr. Ayloush said of Mr. Alnaji, a father of three. “Even the sheriff’s department has said he has been cooperative from Day 1. He’s a family man, a community person, very kind, not a violent person. This seems to have been one of those very unfortunate accidents that led to a terrible, terrible ending — a series of unfortunate events.”

Mr. Alnaji has been placed on administrative leave as a professor of computer science at Moorpark College, the Ventura County Community College District said on Thursday. Requests for interviews were declined last week and on Thursday at his home in a quiet cul-de-sac in Moorpark.

Mr. Kessler, a father of two children who worked in the medical supply industry and flew planes as a hobby, lived just seven miles south. A woman who lives on his block said last week that the neighborhood was “really broken up about this” and asked for respect for their grief.

Mr. Kessler attended Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks, a Conservative synagogue that hosted a night of healing last week. A few hundred people came in person, while several thousand watched online, according to Ari Averbach, the senior rabbi.

“The clergy of our area is pretty close, so we’ve been talking to each other, we’ve been emailing, we’ve had meetings,” Mr. Averbach said. “And hopefully we’re on the same page that if a community member of any of ours is killed at the hands of somebody who is filled with hate, that’s a moment of tragedy for our entire community.”

Shawn Hubler, Jill Cowan and Sergio Olmos contributed reporting.

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