The New York City mayor, Eric Adams, remains under pressure to divulge how many of the 282 people arrested at campus protests in Manhattan on Tuesday night were non-students after repeatedly claiming that “outside agitators” were responsible for escalations that prompted an overwhelming law enforcement crackdown.

Adams, a Democrat and former city police officer, was asked by local reporters on Thursday morning to give a breakdown of the arrest numbers. He repeatedly declined to provide details.

On a local Fox News channel, Adams was asked to provide firm details but instead gave an analogy: “If you have one bad professor educating 30, 40, 50 college students with inappropriate actions, you don’t need 50 bad professors speaking to 50 students.”

He added that “if it’s one, if it’s two, it’s 20, that is what we need to be focusing on”.

The mayor was asked to provide specifics again on the local station NY1 and declined to do so by offering the same analogy. When pressed to provide further details, he said his office had “turned everything over to the school, and it is up to the school to determine if they’re going to release the names of students and non-students”.

Police arrest nearly 300 Gaza protesters at New York universities – video

The Guardian requested confirmation of receipt of arrest lists from both Columbia University and the City College of New York (CCNY), and asked whether the institutions planned to divulge details breaking down the numbers of arrests. Neither immediately responded.

Later on Thursday, the New York police department issued a press release saying that among those arrested at Columbia, “approximately 29% of individuals were not affiliated” with the school, while 60% of people arrested at the CCNY protests were not affiliated with the school. It was not immediately clear how the police were defining “affiliation”, and the release did not break down arrest figures in further detail.

“What we have seen, and what has been made clear by the evidence emerging after this week’s arrests, is that professional, external actors are involved in these protests and demonstrations,” the NYPD commissioner, Edward Caban, said in the release. “These individuals are not university students, they are not affiliated with either the institutions or campuses in question, and they are working to escalate the situation.”

Police escort protesters onto a bus after making arrests at City College of New York, on 1 May 2024. Photograph: Julius Motal/AP

The comments came as some of those arrested expressed shock at the police’s handling of the episode. Dr Gregory Pflugfelder, an associate professor, told the Guardian he was arrested by officers as he photographed law enforcement from outside his apartment on a block near where police began their operation.

Pflugfelder, who has taught at Columbia since 1996, said he was placed in police zip ties and detained after he refused to stop photographing. He was held in detention, where he said he observed a young person who claimed they had occupied the university’s Hamilton Hall and sustained a facial injury during arrest.

Pflugfelder was released at about 5am the next day, he said, and charged with obstruction. The Japanese history and gender studies lecturer had, the day before, taught his final class before retirement. He described the police response as “appallingly out of proportion” and described the entire episode as “a historic betrayal of Columbia values”.

In the immediate aftermath of the mass arrests, Adams told the press that NYPD intelligence had identified a number of “outside influencers” before receiving a written request from Columbia University to remove protesters from campus and the Hamilton Hall building, which was occupied by protesters earlier in the week.

Police use a special vehicle to enter Hamilton Hall, which protesters occupied at Columbia University, on 30 April 2024. Photograph: David Dee Delgado/Reuters

The mayor claimed in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday that protesters “wearing all the black” and “covering your faces” may have been influenced by outside forces by referencing a recent international trip made by the NYPD’s intelligence division to an unspecified country to “study this type of behavior across the globe”.

Adams has also claimed in multiple interviews that outside influences included an individual whose “husband was arrested for and convicted for terrorism on a federal level”. He claimed to MSNBC that the woman, along with other “outside influences”, could be exploiting students involved in protest.

“Once we were able to identify some of the other people, I knew there was no way I was going to allow those children to be exploited the way that they were being exploited,” Adams told the news channel on Wednesday.

While authorities have not specifically named the woman, media reports indicate she is Nahla Al-Arian, the wife of Sami Al-Arian, a former computer engineering professor and a prominent Palestinian activist throughout the 1990s.

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Eric Adams holds up the request from Columbia University asking for the NYPD to clear protestors from Columbia’s campus during a press conference, on 1 May 2024. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

In an interview with the Associated Press, Nahla Al-Arian said authorities had significantly misrepresented her role in the campus protests, which she acknowledged she attended over a week ago, but not to discuss protest tactics.

“The whole thing is a distraction because they are very scared that the young Americans are aware for the first time of what’s going on in Palestine,” she said. “They are the ones who influenced me. They are the ones who gave me hope that at last the Palestinian people can get some justice.”

The 2003 indictment of Sami Al-Arian, 13 charges under the Patriot Act related to alleged support for Palestine Islamic Jihad, was shrouded in significant controversy. A jury found the Florida-based engineering professor not guilty on eight counts and remained deadlocked on the remaining charges. However, Al-Arian eventually took a plea agreement to one charge and was later deported.

On Wednesday evening, the Guardian observed the first round of arraignment hearings at the Manhattan criminal court, where a mix of protesters and others scheduled for hearings appeared before two judges.

Police arrest protesters at the City College of New York, on 30 April 2024. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

During chaotic hearings, the Guardian was able to identify only one non-student charged over his involvement in the protests, a 47-year-old man accused of assault in second degree and obstruction of a government official.

The atmosphere inside the courthouse was unusually energetic for night proceedings. About two dozen student activists and supporters, many clad in keffiyehs, huddled together in the hallways, getting information from public defenders and ducking into arraignment rooms to find their friends as they were being released.

One arrestee, a City College student, declined to be interviewed shortly after his release on charges of second degree assault, property damage and resisting arrest.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday that about 170 of those arrested were issued summonses, while the remaining had been given desk appearance tickets or would continue to wind their way through processing into Thursday.

In a statement, the Legal Aid Society expressed concerns that some protesters had been held in custody for over 24 hours.

“Lawyers from various public defender offices and other organizations were present in court last night and ready to quickly arraign everyone but many protesters were not produced,” the statement said, adding that many protesters were ultimately charged with low-level criminal trespass offenses and should have been released sooner by authorities.

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