US soldier Aaron Bushnell dies after setting himself on fire in Gaza war protest

Serviceman said he would 'no longer be complicit in genocide' in video shot outside Israeli embassy in Washington

The area around the Israeli embassy in Washington was cordoned off after a man set himself on fire there on Sunday. Willy Lowry / The National
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An active duty member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington in protest against Israel's war in Gaza, a military official told The National on Monday.

“My name is Aaron Bushnell. I'm an active duty member of the United States Air Force,” the man said in a video he recorded of himself just before he set himself on fire.

“I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” he said, in the video seen by The National, and shared by an American journalist, Talia Jane.

As he walked towards the embassy, Mr Bushnell said he was about to engage in an “extreme act of protest” before setting his camera down, pouring a liquid substance over his head and lighting himself on fire.

In the video, first responders could be seen scrambling to put out the fire, with one officer repeatedly calling for a fire extinguisher.

Responders attended to a call reporting a man was on fire shortly before 1pm on Sunday, the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department confirmed to The National.

By the time the emergency services arrived, the fire had already been put out by Secret Service officers.

Mr Bushnell was taken to a local hospital with “critical, life-threatening injuries”, a representative of the fire department said, but later succumbed to his injuries.

"It certainly is a tragic event," Pentagon Press Secretary Maj Gen Pat Ryder said on Monday. "We do extend our condolences to the airman’s family."

According to a profile on LinkedIn that matched Mr Bushnell's description, the solider was based in San Antonio, Texas, and was an “aspiring software engineer”

His profile said he had been in the Air Force since 2020.

After not posting anything on Facebook since 2018, Mr Bushnell made a post on the social media site in which he included a link to a live video feed of his protest.

“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?'” Mr Bushnell wrote in the post.

“The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.”

Outside the embassy, police officers secured the area and scoured the ground for evidence hours after the incident occurred.

Officers cordoned off the scene and police vehicles blocked both entrances to the street where the embassy is located in the Cleveland Park neighbourhood.

Metropolitan Police said the bomb squad had been called to the scene “in reference to a suspicious vehicle that may be connected to the individual”.

According to the Israeli embassy, Mr Bushnell was not known to them and “no embassy staff were injured” during the incident, a representative said.

This is not the first act of self-immolation outside an Israeli mission in the US since the war in Gaza started.

In December, a women set herself on fire in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, in what law enforcement said was an of “extreme political protest”.

Unrest over Israel's war in Gaza, which started after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped another 240, according to Israeli authorities, has continued to grow as the death toll in the enclave has mounted.

According to health authorities in the enclave, more than 29,700 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched a devastating aerial and ground campaign in Gaza.

The US has been by far Israel's biggest supporter over the course of the more than four-month-long military campaign, thrice vetoing UN resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire and supplying the country with weapons and ammunition.

Demonstrators regularly interrupt addresses by US President Joe Biden and other officials demanding a ceasefire and protests have been held in major cities across the country.

The US has been working with Egypt and Qatar to try to broker an agreement that would lead to Hamas releasing the remaining hostages in exchange for an extended pause in fighting.

On Sunday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington, Cairo and Doha had come to an understanding with Israel on what the “basic contours” of a deal might look like.

Mr Sullivan told CNN that the proposal now had to be sent to Hamas.

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