A Falls Church man who worked as a federal informant on terrorism set himself on fire in front of the White House yesterday, hours after announcing his suicide attempt and citing his growing despondency over how the FBI managed his case.
Mohamed Alanssi, 52, approached the northwest guardhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue about 2:05 p.m. and asked the security detail to deliver a note to President Bush. When uniformed Secret Service officers turned him away, he stepped about 15 feet from the guard post and used a lighter to ignite his jacket, according to the U.S. Park Police.
Officers surround Mohamed Alanssi after the fire he set was extinguished. He was burned over 30 percent of his body.
(Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)
Secret Service officers wrestled him to the ground and doused the flames with fire extinguishers. Alanssi was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he was listed in critical condition with burns over about 30 percent of his body, authorities said.
Alanssi, who is from Yemen and also uses the name Mohamed Alhadrami, recently discussed his work as a federal informant in a series of interviews with The Washington Post. Yesterday morning, he informed the newspaper by faxed letter and by telephone that he was going to "burn my body at unexpected place." He also sent a copy of a letter he said he had faxed to the FBI agent in New York who is handling his case. The Post alerted the agent and provided a copy of the letter.
In two telephone conversations yesterday, Alanssi told a Post reporter that he would provide 10 minutes' notice of his suicide attempt and that only then would he reveal the location. When he called a third time, Alanssi said he had poured gasoline and would be setting himself on fire in two minutes, not 10, and it would take place near the White House. The newspaper informed D.C. police, who notified the special operations unit and the U.S. Park Police, which has jurisdiction over Lafayette Square.
In the recent interviews, Alanssi expressed anguish over not being able to visit his family in Yemen. He said that he suffers from diabetes and heart problems and that his wife is seriously ill with stomach cancer. Alanssi said he could not travel to his native country because he has no money and because the FBI, which is expecting him to testify at a terrorism trial in New York, was keeping his Yemeni passport.
"I must travel to Yemen to see my sick wife (stomac cancer) and my family before I testify at the court or any other places," Alanssi wrote FBI agent Robert Fuller in New York, according to the copy he provided The Post yesterday. "Why you don't care about my life and my family's life? Once I testify my family will be killed in Yemen, me too I will be dead man."
The FBI declined to comment on Alanssi's identity or his claims of working with the bureau. "We don't have a policy on revealing who is a cooperator or informing witness," said Joe Valiquette, an FBI spokesman in New York. The U.S. attorney's office in the eastern district of New York, which is prosecuting the terrorism-related trial in January, also declined to comment.
Alanssi, who described himself as a once-successful businessman in Yemen, also was upset with the FBI because he said agents had not kept promises they made to secure his cooperation. Those promises included a large, but unspecified, amount of money, eventual U.S. citizenship and protection of his identity, he said.
Alanssi said that he went to the FBI in New York shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and offered information on alleged financers of al Qaeda working in Yemen. He said he quickly became a major informant for the FBI, on occasion traveling to Yemen to gather intelligence.
He volunteered that the FBI paid him $100,000 in 2003. But he said he had been expecting much more because he said some agents told him he would "be a millionaire." And although he was promised permanent residency in this country, he said, he has not received it.
Alanssi said he did not have enough money to pay his medical bills or buy his prescription drugs. He said he recently underwent an operation at a Fairfax hospital to unclog his arteries.
"It is my big mistake that I have cooperated with FBI," he said in a recent interview. "The FBI have already destroyed my life and my family's life and made us in a very danger position . . . I am not crazy to destroy my life and my family's life to get $100,000," he said.
Alanssi also alleged that the FBI had failed to adequately protect his role in a sting operation conducted in Germany in January 2003. That led to the arrest of Mohammed Ali Hassan Al Moayad, a Yemeni cleric who is slated to go on trial Jan. 10 in New York on charges of providing material support to al Qaeda.