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US airman dies after setting himself on fire in protest of Gaza war outside Israeli embassy in Washington

Police were deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on 25 February after an active-duty member of the US Air Force was critically injured after setting himself ablaze outside the diplomatic compound (AP)
Police were deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on 25 February after an active-duty member of the US Air Force was critically injured after setting himself ablaze outside the diplomatic compound (AP)

A US Air Force member who set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, in protest at the Israel-Hamas war, has died, a US official said.

The confirmation came a day after the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in DC responded to calls about the man setting himself ablaze outside the embassy.

The man, who is identified as 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell of Whitman, Massachusetts, filmed himself and live-streamed it onto the social media platform, Twitch, claiming he was acting to “no longer be complicit in genocide”.

Although Secret Service officials successfully extinguished the fire that engulfed Bushnell, he suffered life-threatening injuries and later died at a local hospital, the MPD told The Independent.

The US Air Force also confirmed the man’s death with The Independent, saying he was an active duty airman serving as a cyber defence operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, Texas. He had been serving since May 2020.

“When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it,” Air Force Col Celina Noyes, 70th ISRW commander, said in a statement. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we ask that you respect their privacy during this difficult time.”

The MPD is working with the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to investigate the incident.

The tragic event occurred amid growing international tensions caused by the Israel-Hamas conflict. As the war in Gaza continues, millions of Palestinians face a humanitarian crisis, with a lack of basics including water, food, shelter and medical aid. More than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed as a result of the war, according to the local health ministry.

Protests around the world have grown as the war continues, with more and more people calling for a ceasefire to end the conflict.

Israel, meanwhile, has denied allegations it is carrying out genocide, claiming its actions are in line with international law.

Although Bushnell’s video has been removed, in military uniform he appeared to pour clear liquid from a metal bottle onto his head and shout “Free Palestine!” while setting himself alight.

This is the second instance of self-immolation outside an official Israeli building as a result of the war. In December, a protester set themself on fire at the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.