US Accidentally Killed American al-Qaeda Hostage

“I profoundly regret what happened,” President Obama today said in reference to a January drone strike that accidentally killed two al-Qaeda hostages. The Wall Street Journal reports the deaths of American development expert Dr. Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto mark the first time the US has inadvertently killed a hostage in a drone strike. Obama said he takes “full responsibility” for the operation, which he framed as a mission “fully consistent” with established guidelines, the AP reports. An independent review of the incident is underway, and a statement from the White House press secretary states “we had no reason to believe either hostage was present.”

The Journal reports that in the hundreds of hours of surveillance the CIA amassed on the al-Qaeda-linked compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, there was zero indication the hostages were present. Weinstein had been held since he was taken from his guarded Lahore home in August 2011; Lo Porto was a captive since 2012, and, per the statement, “many within our government spent years attempting to locate and free” them. The Journal reports the US was unaware the men were being held together prior to the strike. The statement adds two other Americans who were working with al-Qaeda were also inadvertently killed in January: Ahmed Farouq likely died in the strike on the aforementioned compound; Adam Gadahn, a spokesman for the terrorists, is thought to have died in a separate strike.

Stories recounting the life of Warren Weinstein—the 73-year-old American accidentally killed by a US drone strike after nearly four years as an al-Qaeda hostage—tend to mention one detail up high: When the aid worker was abducted in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2011, he was just days away from returning to the US after a seven-year mission. In fact, his bags were reportedly packed, reports the Daily Beast. Some other basics:

  • His job: Weinstein had been country director for JE Austin Associates, an Arlington consulting firm. He had been working with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help set up small businesses in troubled regions.
  • Family: Weinstein had a wife of more than 45 years, Elaine, in Rockville, Md., two grown daughters, and two grandchildren, reports CNN. When his girls were young, Weinstein would take only short-stint jobs out of the country or jobs on which his family could come along, the Washington Post reported in 2013.
  • Casting blame: “We were so hopeful that those in the US and Pakistani governments with the power to take action and secure his release would have done everything possible to do so,” says a statement from Elaine. (As a hostage, Weinstein had appeared in multiple videos pleading for the White House to save him.) Still, the statement says the “cowardly” abductors “bear ultimate responsibility.”
  • Wrenching detail: In the 2013 Post interview, Elaine held out hope. “She keeps a toiletry bag packed in her bathroom, thinking it will save time if she ever has to run out on a moment’s notice to meet him.”