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U.S. Air Force member who set himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in D.C. has died

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The U.S. Air Force member who set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., in an apparent protest against the Israel-Hamas war has died, according to a U.S. official.

The airman was identified by police as 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell of San Antonio, Texas.

Dressed in military fatigues, Bushnell filmed himself yelling “Free Palestine” before collapsing to the ground.

In a livestream, Bushnell called the Israeli crackdown in Gaza “genocide” and said what he was doing was not as extreme as the suffering of the Palestinian people.

He then put his phone down, doused himself over the head with a liquid from a water bottle, and then set himself ablaze.

US Air Force member sets himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in Washington in protest over Gaza war
Police officers outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Feb. 25, 2024. Celal Gunes / Anadolu via Getty Images

The District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Service Department responded to a call about a person on fire outside the embassy just before 1 p.m. Sunday. But by the time firefighters arrived, the flames had been extinguished by members of the Secret Service. 

Bushnell was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries where he later died, D.C. Fire and EMS said.

An Air Force spokesperson confirmed Bushnell was an active-duty Air Force officer.

Bushnell, according to his LinkedIn page, was also an “aspiring software engineer” who had worked for a San Antonio-based company called DevOps from March 2023 until this month.

NBC reached out the the company and spoke with two staffers who declined to put a reporter in touch with a spokesperson.

On his Facebook page, Bushnell at 10:54 a.m. Sunday posted a link to a “Free Palestine” channel on Twitch.TV that has since been taken down. Just before that he posted what appeared to be a call to action.

“Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’,” the post read. “The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.”

Several people have since posted condolences in the comments for the post.

The Israeli Embassy said none of its staffers were injured. 

The incident comes as the Israel-Hamas war has stretched into its fourth month.

It follows a similar incident in December when a woman set herself on fire outside the Israeli Consulate General building in Atlanta. A Palestinian flag was recovered from the scene and police described the incident as an “extreme political protest.”

There have been multiple protests since Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostage. Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli military has presented the war Cabinet with a plan for the evacuation of civilians from “fighting areas” in Gaza. It comes as Netanyahu has spoken of a planned ground offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city along the border with Egypt, where 1 million Palestinians have sought safety.

International figures, including United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, have warned against a full-scale Israeli assault on Rafah, citing safety concerns over Palestinians seeking refuge there as well as obstruction of the flow of aid.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or chat live at 988lifeline.org. You can also visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional support.



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