Man dies after setting himself on fire outside Israeli embassy

Man dies after setting himself on fire outside Israeli embassy

People leave flowers and notes at a memorial during a vigil for US Airman Aaron Bushnell, who died after setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Sunday in an apparent act of protest against the war in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Washington, DC, on Monday. (Photo: Reuters)
People leave flowers and notes at a memorial during a vigil for US Airman Aaron Bushnell, who died after setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Sunday in an apparent act of protest against the war in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Washington, DC, on Monday. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — An airman who had set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington in protest of civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip died of his injuries Sunday night, a spokesperson for the United States Air Force, Rose M. Riley, said Monday.

The airman, Aaron Bushnell, 25, of Whitman, Massachusetts, was a cyber-defence operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas and had served on active duty since 2020, the Air Force said in a statement Monday night.

Bushnell appeared to have filmed the protest Sunday and livestreamed it on the social media platform Twitch. The New York Times could not confirm who was behind the account that posted the video, but the footage matched the details of the episode released by police.

A man dressed in fatigues identifies himself in the video as Bushnell and calls himself an active-duty Air Force officer.

"I will no longer be complicit in genocide," a man says in the video, echoing language that opponents of Israel's military offensive in Gaza have used to describe the war. "I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers, it's not extreme at all."

Standing in front of the gates of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, he sets his phone down to douse himself in a clear liquid from a metal bottle. He then lights himself on fire while yelling, "Free Palestine!" until he falls to the ground.

The video shows law enforcement officers approaching him seconds before the fire catches. One is heard off-camera saying, "Can I help you, sir?" The officers scramble for more than a minute to put out the flames.

Officers with the US Secret Service were the first to respond at the embassy, in northwestern Washington, around 1pm, said Vito Maggiolo, a spokesperson with the city’s fire department. Bushnell was taken to a hospital.

The New York Times viewed the video before Twitch removed it Sunday afternoon, replacing it with a message saying that the channel violated the platform’s guidelines. It was the only video posted to the account, which had a Palestinian flag as its header image.

"When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it," Col Celina Noyes, the commander of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, to which Bushnell was assigned, said in a statement Monday night. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell.”

No staff members of the Israeli Embassy were injured, according to Tal Naim, a spokesperson for the embassy.

Officers with the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were still working with Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department to investigate the episode, authorities said Monday.

Protests against Israel have become a near-daily occurrence across the country since Israel began its military offensive in Gaza after the Oct 7 Hamas attacks that killed at least 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. More than 29,000 people have been killed in the war in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

As international calls for a cease-fire have grown and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has deepened, the Israeli Embassy has been the site of protests that have sometimes resulted in arrests — but seldom in violence.

In December, a protester self-immolated in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta in what police said was “likely an extreme act of political protest.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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