(CNN)Warren Weinstein spent much of his life working to help people in other countries, President Barack Obama said Thursday at the White House, a short time after the government announced that the 73-year-old was accidentally killed in a January operation targeting al Qaeda in Pakistan.
The terror group was holding the husband and father from Rockville, Maryland, his family told CNN last year.
Gunmen abducted Weinstein in 2011 from his home in Lahore, Pakistan. They posed as neighbors, offered food and then pistol-whipped the American aid worker and tied up his guards, according to his daughter Alisa Weinstein.
Weinstein was employed by J.E. Austin Associates Inc., a U.S. consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia, that is a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was a world-renowned development expert, according to the company’s website.
Just a few months after Weinstein’s capture, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a recording claiming the terror group was holding Weinstein — and demanding, among other things, that the U.S. end airstrikes in Pakistan.
Obama said Thursday that Weinstein was held, in part, because he was Jewish.
Al-Zawahiri described the captive as “a former employee and a current contractor working with the U.S. government in its aid program to Pakistan, which aims to fight the jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and just like the Americans arrest any suspect linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban, even if they were far related.”
Weinstein was working in Pakistan to help Pakistanis live better lives, according to Obama.
He “willingly left the comforts” of home, Obama said, as did another hostage killed in the January operation, Italian Giovanni Lo Porto. Both men “believed passionately” that they could make a difference, Obama said.
He noted that Weinstein’s health had been deteriorating.
A senior White House official and other high-ranking officials were involved in notifying the Weinstein family Wednesday. The family was given what was described as the equivalent of a classified briefing.
The United States does not have Weinstein’s body and did not conduct a DNA test, sources said. A variety of intelligence sources confirmed his and Lo Porto’s deaths. The judgment that they had died is based on circumstantial evidence and a CIA assessment.
Multiple sources told CNN that the operation that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto was a drone strike.
‘Disappointment and heartbreak’
Weinstein’s wife, Elaine Weinstein, released a statement thanking some but also blasting the U.S. government and the Pakistanis for not doing more to help her husband.
“On behalf of myself, our two daughters, our son-in-law, and two grandchildren, we are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home. 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,” it read. “We do not yet fully understand all of the facts surrounding Warren’s death but we do understand that the U.S. government will be conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances.
The family looks forward to the results of that investigation, the statement 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,” the statement continued. “The cowardly actions of those who took Warren captive and ultimately to the place and time of his death are not in keeping with Islam and they will have to face their God to answer for their actions.”
“Warren spent his entire life working to benefit people across the globe and loved the work that he did to make people’s lives better. In Pakistan, where he was working before he was abducted, he loved and respected the Pakistani people and their culture. He learned to speak Urdu and did everything he could to show his utmost and profound respect for the region.
“We cannot even begin to express the pain our family is going through and we ask for the respect of our privacy as we go through this devastating ordeal.”
Elaine Weinstein thanked Maryland members of Congress — Rep. John Delaney, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Sen. Ben Cardin — and members of the FBI for “their relentless efforts to free” her husband.
But she blasted “other elements of the U.S. Government” that were “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,” the statement read. “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. I hope the nature of our future relationship with Pakistan is reflective of how they prioritize situations such as these.”
A daughter’s hope
Alisa Weinstein told CNN in June 2014 that her father was ailing. But it was still an optimistic time for the family.
That month captors released U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and that buoyed Alisa Weinstein’s hopes that her father would be freed.
Weinstein’s daughter said he had a heart condition and severe asthma.
Al Qaeda released a video of him on Christmas 2013. He appeared to be suffering.
Over the years, when Weinstein’s case came up, U.S. officials called for his release but repeatedly said Washington would not bargain with al Qaeda.
During the operation in January, American officials had “no reason to believe either hostage was present” when the raid was launched on a compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
The White House also disclosed Thursday that two other Americans, both al Qaeda operatives, were also killed in U.S. counterterrorism operations in the same region.
Al Qaeda leader Ahmed Farouq, who was an American citizen, was killed in the operation that killed the two hostages.
Adam Gadahn, another American who joined al Qaeda, was also killed by U.S. forces in the region, “likely in a separate” counterterrorism operation, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in the statement.
Source Article from http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/23/world/warren-weinstein-al-qaeda-hostage-death/