A man who set himself afire Monday just outside a White House gate reportedly worked for the FBI as an informant and was distraught over his inability to return to Yemen to visit his critically ill wife.
Mohamed Alanssi, 52, arrived at the White House gate just before 2 p.m. Monday with a letter addressed to President Bush. After talking briefly with uniformed Secret Service officers, he pulled a lighter from his pocket and set his clothing ablaze. Although the officers acted quickly to extinguish the flames, emergency medical technicians said he suffered burns on his hands, neck and face.
“I can confirm that there was an ignitable liquid present on the scene,” said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Alanssi was taken to Washington Hospital Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
The Washington Post reported that Alanssi, who also used the name Mohamed Alhadrami, had informed the newspaper of his plans early Monday. He told The Post by fax and telephone that he was “going to burn my body at unexpected place.” He also faxed a letter to an FBI agent in New York who has had contact with him, the Post reported.
In 2003, Alanssi was the subject of a Washington Post story describing his role as an informant for the FBI, providing information on terrorist financiers in Yemen.
Alanssi, of Falls Church, Va., told the Post in recent interviews that he was upset because he could not travel to Yemen to visit his ailing wife, who has stomach cancer. He also said the FBI had not kept promises it made to him to secure his assistance.
The investigation into Monday’s incident is being handled jointly by the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania Avenue immediately outside the White House fence.
Lorie Lewis, a Secret Service spokeswoman, said the man “set himself on fire on Pennsylvania Avenue on the north side of the White House complex.” That section of Pennsylvania Avenue was recently reopened to pedestrians after being closed for security.
Witnesses reported hearing screams and seeing a man in flames. The man’s right trouser leg was burned.
Afterward, he lay on the sidewalk about 10 to 15 feet from his partially burned raincoat, attache case and various papers. A fire extinguisher was there as well. Secret Service personnel confiscated the man’s items.
A Florida couple with a video camera taped the incident. John and Beverly Beers, tourists from Palm Beach, Fla., said they turned the tape over to the Secret Service. Authorities also interviewed the couple in Lafayette Park.
Jim Clarke of Burke, Va., was walking his dog when the incident occurred. He said Secret Service agents acted quickly and used an extinguisher to put out the flames.
In an unrelated incident, a different man jumped the fence on the north side of the White House grounds. Officers of the Secret Service’s uniformed division apprehended the man shortly after 5 p.m., Lewis said. That incident is also under investigation.