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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Man set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, police say

By Aishvarya Kavi

A man set himself on fire Sunday afternoon outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. A U.S. Air Force spokesperson, Ann Stefanek, confirmed Sunday night that the man was an active-duty airman.

Officers with the U.S. Secret Service extinguished the fire outside the embassy, in northwestern Washington, around 1 p.m., said Vito Maggiolo, a spokesperson with the city’s fire department. The man was taken to a nearby hospital with life-threatening injuries and remains in critical condition.

No embassy staff members were injured, and all were accounted for, according to Tal Naim, a spokesperson for the embassy.

The man appeared to have filmed the protest and livestreamed it on the social media platform Twitch at the time police said they responded to the incident. The New York Times could not confirm who was behind the account that posted the video, but the video featured a man walking toward the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

“I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” a man said in the video, echoing language that opponents of Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip have used to describe the campaign. “I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest.”

Standing in front of the embassy gates, he set his phone down to film dousing himself in a clear liquid from a metal bottle. He then lit himself on fire while yelling “Free Palestine!” until he fell to the ground.

The video showed law enforcement officers approaching him shortly before the fire caught. One could be heard off-camera saying: “Can I help you, sir?” The officers then scrambled for more than a minute to put out the flames.

The video was removed Sunday afternoon and replaced with a message stating that the channel violated Twitch’s guidelines. It was the only video posted to the account, which had a Palestinian flag as its header image.

In the video, the man was dressed in fatigues, and the name he used matched a LinkedIn profile for an active-duty Air Force officer based in Texas. Authorities have not confirmed the identity of the man.

Police also investigated a suspicious vehicle nearby for explosives, but Sean Hickman, a police spokesperson, said the scene had been cleared by 4 p.m. Officers with the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had worked with Washington’s explosive ordnance disposal unit to investigate the incident.

Protests against Israel have become a near-daily occurrence across the country since Israel began its campaign in Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed at least 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. International calls for a humanitarian cease-fire have grown in the past months as the humanitarian crisis has deepened. The embassy has been the site of sustained protests against the war in Gaza as the civilian death toll in the devastated enclave continues to climb, with more than 29,000 dead, according to Gaza Health Ministry officials.

Protests have sometimes resulted in arrests but seldom in violence. In December, a protester self-immolated in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta in what police said was “likely an extreme act of political protest.”

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