Police probe alleged foul-smelling substance attack on Gaza march

Connie Queline

Police probe alleged foul-smelling substance attack on Gaza march

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Police in New York City are investigating a possible hate crime after pro-Palestine demonstrators at Columbia University reported being sprayed with a foul-smelling substance.

The incident happened on Friday at a pro-Palestine march on campus.

The students reported symptoms like vomiting and headaches, and some sought medical treatment.

Columbia University said the suspected perpetrators have been banned from campus while police investigate.

In an email to faculty and students on Monday, Columbia’s Provost Dennis Mitchell denounced the attack and called it “deeply troubling”.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms any threats or acts of violence directed toward anyone in our community,” he wrote.

“The University is committed to taking urgent action with the appropriate authorities in any such cases.”

  • Israel-Gaza inflames tensions on US college campuses

The protest, which was unsanctioned by the university, took place at the front steps of Columbia’s Low Library.

According to Columbia University’s campus newspaper The Spectator, it was there that about a dozen or so students began smelling a foul odour, akin to sewage.

Some reported physical symptoms like nausea and burning eyes, as well as damage to their personal belongings.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) confirmed that it is investigating at least six reports related to the march.

In a statement to BBC, the NYPD said a 24-year-old female reported smelling an “unknown odour and began to feel nauseated and experienced a burning sensation in her eyes”. Since then, the police said they received five additional reports.

The NYPD added that no arrests have been made and that the investigation is ongoing.

The incident follows months of tension on Columbia University’s campus and others across the country between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war on 7 October.

In October, a 19-year-old former student of Columbia University was charged in an assault on an Israeli student who was putting up posters of hostages held by Hamas.

Pro-Palestinian students on campus have also reported being harassed online, as well as being publicly singled-out by a truck that featured their faces and names and that labelled them as antisemites.

In November, Columbia University suspended two pro-Palestinian groups – Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace – in an effort to reduce tensions on campus.

The groups have pushed back, calling the suspensions unjust, and have continued to hold rallies under different banners.

Related Topics

  • New York City
  • United States

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