Four men who were arrested for allegedly attacking pro-Israel demonstrators with sticks were agitating the crowd with taunts before the confrontation turned physical Sunday, one witness said.
Judy Friedman, who works for a Los Angeles-based legal affairs group, said she was in a car just ahead of the truck carrying Mostadafa Gamaleldin Hafez, Hassan Mustapha Kreidieh, Mohammed Said Elkhatib and Fadi Ali Obeidallah -- who were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon Sunday night.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials said the men got out of the truck on Wilshire Boulevard and struck several pro-Israel demonstrators with the wooden sticks that had Palestinian flags on them after an unidentified demonstrator grabbed a flag from their truck and stepped on it. The men have denied that they attacked anyone.
In the moments before the flag was grabbed, the men in the truck had been shouting taunts at the demonstrators and at Friedman and her car's occupants, she told The Times.
The men were "taunting and threatening the ralliers [sic]," and thrusting wooden sticks in the direction of the protesters standing on the sidewalk next to the federal building, she said.
"They were looking for a fight," she said.
Video and media photographs from the protest support her claim that the men were engaged in a verbal altercation with the protesters, who can be heard on one YouTube video yelling insults back at the men as they drove off.
As the men left the scene, a Federal Protective Service agent fired a single gunshot that did not hit anyone, officials said. The agent has been put on administrative leave while the agency investigates the incident. The Sheriff's Department is also investigating the shooting, said Sgt. Dave Valentine.
The men in the truck were stopped by police and eventually booked at the sheriff's department's West Hollywood station and released Mnday morning on $30,000 bail each.
Speaking with reporters outside of the station, Elkhatib said they were "falsely arrested" and demanded that authorities investigate the Federal Protective Service agent who fired his weapon.
"We did not assault nobody," Elkhatib said. "You guys have surveillance and cameras and that will tell us the truth."
The alleged incident occurred as a crowd estimated at about 1,800 people amassed to face off over Israel's week-long offensive against the Gaza Strip, where at least 175 people, mostly civilians, have been killed by rocket fire.