In a remarkable White House statement released on Thursday, the administration acknowledged that two al Qaeda hostages, an American and an Italian, were killed in January during a U.S. counterterrorism operation involving drone strikes. The statement noted that the federal government was involved in years of efforts to secure both hostages' release, but who was al Qaeda's American hostage, Warren Weinstein?
Hailing from Rockville, Maryland, Weinstein was abducted in 2011 a mere four days before the end of his seven-year stint with the U.S. Agency for International Development, NBC News reported. He was taken from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, by gunmen who, according to his daughter Alisa, posed as neighbors who offered Weinstein food, then pistol-whipped him and tied up his guards. The 73-year-old aid worker was the only known U.S. citizen to be held by the group, and his death is the first accidental killing of a hostage by a U.S. drone.
On Christmas Day 2013, al Qaeda released a video of a weary, bedraggled Weinstein pleading for the Obama administration to make the "hard decisions" necessary to secure his release, saying that he felt "totally abandoned and forgotten" by the government. A link to a handwritten letter by Weinstein that implored the media to keep his case in the news was included in the anonymous email sent to journalists, The Washington Post reported.
Though the U.S. government has been calling for Weinstein's release for years, officials reiterated that Washington would not negotiate with al Qaeda. Thursday's statement said that officials did not know either hostages were in the compound that the drone targeted.
The Weinstein family released a statement following that of the White House's, thanking certain members of Congress and the FBI for their efforts, but said that the administration and the Pakistani government and military failed to provide adequate assistance. The statement read:
[T]he assistance we received from other elements of the U.S. Government was inconsistent and disappointing over the course of three and a half years. We hope that my husband's death and the others who have faced similar tragedies in recent months will finally prompt the U.S. Government to take its responsibilities seriously and establish a coordinated and consistent approach to supporting hostages and their families.
I am disappointed in the government and military in Pakistan. Warren's safe return should have been a priority for them based on his contributions to their country, but they failed to take action earlier in his captivity when opportunity presented itself, instead treating Warren's captivity as more of an annoyance than a priority.
The video of Weinstein in 2013 was one of a number that al Qaeda released to prove he was still alive, though it heightened his family's concern over his health. On Thursday, Obama said that he took "full responsibility" for the deaths of Weinstein and the Italian hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto, a humanitarian aid worker in Pakistan who was taken in 2012, and offered his "grief and condolences" to their families.