The White House said Thursday that a U.S. operation in January against an Al Qaeda compound near the Afghan-Pakistan border killed one American and one Italian hostage, along with an American member of the jihadist group. Another American, Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, was killed, “likely in a separate U.S. government counterterrorism operation.”
“No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy,” the White House said, revealing the previously classified finding. The president “takes full responsibility for these operations.”
The White House identified the hostages killed in the operation against the border compound as U.S. contractor Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto.
Weinstein was snatched after gunmen tricked their way into his home in Lahore on Aug. 13, 2011 shortly before he was due to return home after seven years working in Pakistan. He later appeared in a video in which, under apparent coercion, he asked the United States to free Al Qaeda prisoners.
Lo Porto disappeared in January 2012 in Pakistan.
“Analysis of all available information has led the intelligence community to judge with high confidence that the operation accidentally killed both hostages,” the White House said. “The operation targeted an Al Qaeda-associated compound, where we had no reason to believe either hostage was present, located in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The White House statement did not identify which U.S. agency carried out the operation, which suggests it was carried out by an intelligence service rather than a military unit. “We have concluded that Ahmed Faruq, an American who was an Al Qaeda leader, was killed in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto,” the White House said. “We have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent member of Al Qaeda, was killed in January, likely in a separate U.S. Government counterterrorism operation,” it added. “While both Faruq and Gadahn were Al Qaeda members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations.”
Weinstein’s wife issued a statement after the White House confirmation, blaming Al Qaeda for the tragic death of her husband in the U.S. counter-terrorism strike. But Elaine Weinstein said she and her family were disappointed with the U.S. and Pakistani governments’ efforts to secure her husband’s release from his Al Qaeda captors.
“We were so hopeful that those in the U.S. and Pakistani governments with the power to take action and secure his release would have done everything possible to do so and there are no words to do justice to the disappointment and heartbreak we are going through,” she said in the statement.
The family was looking forward to the results of a U.S. government investigation into the incident, she said. “But those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility. I can assure you that he would still be alive and well if they had allowed him to return home after his time abroad working to help the people of Pakistan,” she said.
She singled out the Pakistani government in particular for criticism, saying officials did not place a sufficient priority on her husband’s case. And as for Washington, she expressed appreciation to some lawmakers and FBI officials but said “the assistance we received from other elements of the U.S. government was inconsistent and disappointing over the course of three and a half years.”