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US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

Feb 26, 2024, 5:14 AM | Updated: 6:42 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., while declaring that he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.”

The 25-year-old airman, Aaron Bushnell, of San Antonio, Texas, died from his injuries, the Metropolitan Police Department said Monday.

Bushnell had walked up to the embassy shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday and began livestreaming on the video streaming platform Twitch, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Law enforcement officials believe he set his phone down and then doused himself in accelerant and ignited the flames. At one point, he said he “will no longer be complicit in genocide,” the person said. The video was later removed from the platform, but law enforcement officials have obtained and reviewed a copy.

The person was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Investigators believe Bushnell had been staying at a Travelodge in Silver Spring, Maryland, which was searched Monday by federal agents, a law enforcement official said. That official was not authorized to disclose details of the investigation publicly and also spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

In a statement Monday, the Air Force said, “The individual involved in yesterday’s incident succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night.”

Later Monday, the Air Force said Bushnell was a cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio. He had served on active duty since May 2020.

Col. Celina Noyes, commander the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, said: “When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell.”

Demonstrators held a vigil for Bushnell outside the Israeli embassy Monday night.

The incident happened as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking the cabinet approval for a military operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah while a temporary cease-fire deal is being negotiated. Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, however, has drawn criticisms, including genocide claims against the Palestinians.

Israel has adamantly denied the genocide allegations and says it is carrying out operations in accordance with international law in the Israel-Hamas war.

In December, a person self-immolated outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta and used gasoline as an accelerant, according to Atlanta’s fire authorities. A Palestinian flag was found at the scene, and the act was believed to be one of “extreme political protest.”

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Associated Press writer Tara Copp contributed to this report.

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US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest