Updated Feb 26, 2024 - Politics & Policy

U.S. airman dies after setting himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in D.C.

Police take security measures and investigate the crime scene after a man set himself alight in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, United States on February 25, 2024. The man was subsequently referred to a regional hospital in critical condition due to serious injuries.

Police officers outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, after a man set himself alight there. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images

A U.S. airman has died after setting himself on fire Sunday outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., authorities confirmed Monday.

The big picture: A video posted online showed the man, identified as Senior Airman Aaron Bushnell, 25, of Whitman, Massachusetts, shouting "Free Palestine" as he burned during the incident, which lasted about a minute before law enforcement officers extinguished the flames at about 1pm.

  • The Israeli Embassy said in a statement that none of its staff was injured and all were safe.

The latest: Bushnell was assigned to the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, according to a U.S. Air Force statement emailed on Monday evening.

  • "He was a cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, Texas," per the statement. "He served on active duty since May 2020."

State of play: The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) said in a statement earlier Monday that after first responders arrived on the scene Bushnell was "transported by DC Fire and EMS to a local hospital where he later died."

  • Bushnell appeared to be in military uniform and identified himself as "an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force." Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek confirmed via email Sunday evening that "an active duty Airman" was involved in the incident.
  • In the video of the incident, Bushnell said he would "no longer be complicit in genocide," which the Israeli military was accused of committing in Gaza in an International Court of Justice case brought by South Africa. "I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest."
  • The MPD said in a post to X that its Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit was called to the 3500 block on International Drive in northwest D.C. "in reference to a suspicious vehicle that may be connected to the individual," but it later reported that no hazardous materials had been found.

What they're saying: "When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it," said U.S. Air Force Col. Celina Noyes, 70th ISRW commander, in an emailed statement that extended sympathies, thoughts and prayers to Bushnell's loved ones.

What we're watching: An investigation of the incident is ongoing, per the MPD.

Zoom out: Cities across the U.S. have seen hundreds of protests since the Israel-Hamas war began last October, and the Israeli Embassy in D.C. has been a target of pro-Palestinian protesters calling for a ceasefire.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout and a statement from MPD.

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