NYPD investigates 'serious crimes' in apparent attack on Pro-Palestinian protesters

A group of demonstrators at Columbia University say they were attacked with what they believe to have been a "chemical-based weapon" during a gathering in support of Palestinians amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The New York Police Department told ABC News there is a report on file for assault after the protesters said they smelled a foul odor and began to feel nauseated, accompanied by headaches, during a protest Friday. The victims refused medical attention at the scene, according to the NYPD.

Students for Justice in Palestine said several students have been hospitalized or have sought medical care following the incident. Victims reported symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, chest and abdominal pain and headaches.

Late Tuesday, sources told ABC News that the NYPD has recovered surveillance video of two men spraying an unknown substance on a light pole before the pro-Palestinian rally at Columbia University.

Detectives are working with Columbia to identify and locate the two males. NYPD is not currently releasing the video, the sources said.

They have recovered clothing from three of the six people who say they were exposed, and the department's forensics lab is attempting to determine what, if anything, the articles of clothing can be tested for, per the sources.

At this point, this investigation does not fall within the parameters of a hate crime investigation, sources told ABC News. It is being investigated as a possible assault. No arrests have been made.

Interim Provost Dennis A. Mitchell said the NYPD is taking the "lead role in investigating what appear to have been serious crimes, possibly hate crimes."

"Numerous Columbia and Barnard students who attended a protest later reported being sprayed with a foul-smelling substance that required students to seek medical treatment," said Mitchell.

The alleged perpetrators have been identified to the university and have been immediately banned from campus while the law enforcement investigation proceeds, according to Mitchell.

The investigation remains ongoing, officials said. The university's Department of Public Safety is also investigating in collaboration with local and federal authorities after several reports were filed in connection with Friday’s protest "that are of great concern," according to a Columbia University spokesperson.

PHOTO: Stock Photo (Adobe Stock)
PHOTO: Stock Photo (Adobe Stock)

"While the investigation is proceeding, we continue to seek the university community’s support. Reporting is essential so that the proper authorities -- including the NYPD -- can track down the facts and take action as necessary," the Columbia University department said Sunday.

The Department of Public Safety is urging people to come forward if they have any information.

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Several of the protesters were from the groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, according to posts from the groups on social media.

In a social media post, the Students for Justice in Palestine said "student protesters were sprayed by a chemical weapon" during a "pro-Palestine and anti-genocide" protest. They referred to the attack as a "hate crime" and said several students continued to experience burning eyes and nausea hours after the attack.

PHOTO: Columbia University in New York City. (Adobe Stock)
PHOTO: Columbia University in New York City. (Adobe Stock)

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The two groups were suspended in November by the university for allegedly violating university policies for holding unauthorized events that "included threatening rhetoric and intimidation." Their suspension caused outrage nationwide.

Colleges and universities across the United States have struggled to handle the ongoing debate over the Israel-Hamas war with pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protests erupting on campuses and federal agencies launching investigations into possible discrimination at several institutions.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 25,105 people have been killed and 62,681 others have been injured since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed and 6,900 others have been injured by the terrorist group Hamas and other Palestinian militants, according to the Israeli prime minister's office.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with a new statement from the university's interim provost and the recovery of surveillance video, according to sources.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

NYPD investigates 'serious crimes' in apparent attack on Pro-Palestinian protesters originally appeared on abcnews.go.com