A retired teacher finds inspiration in Colombia's struggles. Eric Adams called her an outside rebel

NEW YORK (AP) — Before police officers poured into Columbia University Tuesday night, More than 100 people were arrested As they cleared an occupied school building and tent camp, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he received intelligence that changed his thinking about campus protests. About the war in Gaza.

The mayor said “outside rebels” working to “radicalize our kids” are leading students to more extreme tactics. One of them, Adams, repeated in media appearances Wednesday morning that the husband was a woman “convicted of terrorism.”

But the woman mentioned by the mayor was not on Columbia's campus this week, was not among the protesters arrested and no crime was committed.

Nahla Al-Arian, 63, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Adams had misrepresented both her role in the protests and facts about her husband, Sami Al-Arian, a former computer engineering professor and prominent Palestinian activist.

He was arrested in 2003 on charges of supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in the 1980s and 1990s, but a jury declined to convict him on any charges. A complicated case was in a legal quandary Over the years, even after he accepted a plea deal to a lesser charge, his family said he accepted getting out of jail and ending their suffering. He He was deported to Turkey In 2015, he settled a case that some saw as an example of government overreach.

Retired elementary school teacher Nahla Al-Arian said she went to Columbia — but never taught anyone about disobedience.

“The whole thing is a distraction because they're so scared that young Americans are learning for the first time what's going on in Palestine,” Nahla al-Arian said. “They are the ones who influenced me. They are the ones who finally gave me hope that there will be some justice for the Palestinian people.

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Law enforcement officials have long tried to discredit the protests by invoking the threat of “outside rioters” from the civil rights movement. Police officers in New York made similar claims during protests that erupted across the city Death of George Floyd in 2020The violence sometimes labels peaceful marches by neighborhood activists as the work of outside extremists.

Nahla al-Arian said she had lost dozens of relatives to Israeli airstrikes in recent months and wanted to see the camp up close, stopping briefly on April 25 on an unrelated trip to New York City with her two daughters. He sat on the grass for a while but did not speak directly to any of the protesters, describing them as “busy and beautiful”.

“I was happy to sit and watch those students fight for justice for the oppressed people of Palestine,” he recalls. “Then I was tired, so I quit.”

A photo of her kneeling alone near a tent, taken by her daughter and shared on X by her husband, quickly sparked accusations of terror links to the protest.

The claim was parroted by right-wing social media accounts, including Lips of TikTok. A post on X, which has received more than 1 million views, falsely claimed that the woman may have been among the protesters when police entered the compound. The post cited City Hall sources and was later deleted.

But the claim spread widely, fueling a narrative strongly denied by student organizers that Columbia's pro-Palestinian movement was co-opted by outside forces.

Appearing Wednesday on “CBS Mornings,” Adams, a Democrat, said the NYPD's investigative division “identified professionals, well-trained” among the protesters. One of them is married to a man arrested for terrorism offences. Pressed for details, he declined to name the woman but suggested reporters could look to social media to find out.

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Speaking on MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” Adams said suspicions of outside influences on students were confirmed after police identified a woman in the protest “organization” whose “husband was arrested and convicted of terrorism at the federal level.” At a news conference later in the day, Adams suggested that Columbia students were taught by outsiders how to defend themselves against police efforts to remove them, saying “these are all skills that are taught and learned.”

Police declined to say how many of the 109 people arrested in Columbia on Tuesday night were not connected to the university or provide details about which groups may have been involved. Before students entered Hamilton Hall, police officials said: Without evidence, An outside committee helped fund and organize the camp.

Students at Columbia are open about the fact that they count members outside the community in their movement. But organizers see their actions as guided by students, some of whom said they closely studied the tactics they were using. In 1968 several university buildings were taken over Against the Vietnam War and racism.

In a statement, the group behind the camp, Columbia University Apartheid Divestment, defended the right “to include people outside the Ivy League or the Ivory Tower in this global movement.”

“'Rebel outside' is a far-right smear used to denigrate coalition building and anti-racism,” the report continued.

Journalist Laila al-Arian, who joined her mother at the camp on April 25, said the mayor's comments dredged up painful memories of her father's years-long legal battle. Adams, he said, “appealed to people's most base racist instincts” to view Muslims as dangerous outsiders.

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“My mother wanted to see this beautiful act of unity from up close,” he added. “It's shameful in many ways that people are using my father to slander students who weren't even alive when all this happened.”

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