- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

A man set himself on fire and another jumped the fence in separate incidents on the north side of the White House yesterday afternoon.

U.S. Park Police said the man who set himself on fire was carrying a letter for President Bush. Investigators said the man talked with uniformed Secret Service officers at the northwest gate before pulling a lighter from his pocket and igniting his jacket shortly before 2 p.m.

“I can confirm that there was an ignitable liquid present on the scene,” said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Secret Service agents quickly put out the flames with blankets and fire extinguishers, and other personnel confiscated the man’s items, witnesses said.

“He was fully involved in flames, but within seconds, the Secret Service showed up and put him out,” said Jim Clarke, of Burke, who saw the incident while walking his dog along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.

That section of Pennsylvania Avenue recently was reopened to pedestrians after being closed for security reasons.

“If he is alive, he owes it to the Secret Service,” Mr. Clarke said.

White House doctors joined uniformed Secret Service personnel in administering first aid until emergency technicians arrived. Park Police said the man was of Middle Eastern descent.

Mr. Clarke said he was unnerved by the sight of the man writhing in pain and moaning as he lay burned on the ground.

“It was really shocking to see someone do something that stupid, that crazy,” he said. “But seeing someone fly two planes into the World Trade Center, that raised the bar for crazy.”

About 5:15 p.m., another man scaled the fence at the north gate and landed on the front lawn of the White House. Uniformed Secret Service agents quickly apprehended the man and took him away in handcuffs.

The man, who appeared to be in his late 20s, had long black hair that was tied back in a pony tail. He was dressed in black and had been loitering near the White House grounds when the other set himself on fire three hours earlier.

Last night, Secret Service officials did not identify the man who jumped the fence or the man who set himself on fire. Secret Service officials, who are investigating both incidents, said the motivation behind both actions was not clear.

Mr. Etter said the man who set himself ablaze was 52 years old and suffered second-degree burns over 30 percent of his body. He was being treated last night at the burn unit of Washington Hospital Center.

“He had some third-degree burns, too, but it was mostly second-degree burns,” Mr. Etter said. “He was red, and it was obviously very painful.”

Mr. Etter said the man was conscious when paramedics arrived but he was not able to speak. The Associated Press reported last night that the man yelling repeatedly yelled “Allah, Allah” after Secret Service officers put out the flames, and one held him facedown on the sidewalk.

Mr. Clarke, who was walking his golden retriever when he saw the man on fire, said he told Secret Service agents and D.C. police investigators that shortly before the incident, he saw a television cameraman and a reporter apparently videotaping a report in front of the north gate.

When the man was burning, the cameraman was videotaping the incident, but the reporter was nowhere to be seen, Mr. Clarke said. He speculated that the reporter might have been the burn victim.

“They are looking for that cameraman,” Mr. Clarke said.

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, the AP reported.

After the first incident, authorities closed Lafayette Park and the Pennsylvania Avenue pedestrian walkway.

Still, tourists gathered at the edge of the park to snap photographs of the White House. Some were dismayed by the incident.

“People will do all sorts of things to get attention,” said Mark Murray, 40, an emergency-room physician from Houston who was in town for a medical conference. “I think it is crazy, and there are better ways to get your message across.”

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