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

The airman, identified by police as Aaron Bushnell, recorded the incident and could be heard yelling “Free Palestine" before collapsing.
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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. The Air Force said Bushnell, of Whitman, Massachusetts, served at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas.

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

In a livestream, Bushnell called the Israeli attack on 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 Sunday. 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. 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.

The Air Force’s 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing said Bushnell was a cyber defense operations specialist. Bushnell served with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron, it said. He was active duty and served since May 2020.

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.

Two company staffers 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. And Hamas, in a statement, called Bushnell "the heroic pilot" even though there doesn't appear to be any evidence that the airman was a supporter of the Palestinian militant group.

Bushnell appears to have spent part of his childhood on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. The Nauset Public School system confirmed in a statement that he was a pupil in its system from 2003 to 2007, and from 2013 to 2014.

"The Nauset Public Schools is heartbroken to learn of the untimely death of one of our former students," the statement said, in part. "We offer our condolences to his family and friends."

Col. Celina Noyes, commander of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, said in a statement that its thoughts were with Bushnell's family and friends.

“When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it,” Noyes said. “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 Israeli Embassy in Washington said none of its staffers were injured. 

Bushnell's death came as the Israel-Hamas war has stretched into its fourth month.

In December, 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 worldwide protests against Israel ever since it invaded Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas surprise attack on Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Hamas also took 240 hostages.

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.

Netanyahu has also repeatedly warned of a possible ground offensive against Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city along the border with Egypt, where 1 million Palestinians have sought safety.

International leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, have urged Netanyahu not to launch a full-scale Israeli assault on Rafah. They said Palestinian civilians would be directly in the line of fire and any attack on Rafah would disrupt the flow of badly needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.

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