US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The United States has declassified details of a counterterrorism mission that resulted in the deaths of t wo American r ecruits of al-Qaida, as well as two of its Western captives.
Warren Weinstein (left in video still released by terrorists) and Giovanni Lo Porto (right).
Dr. Warren Weinstein, a Jewish American aid worker held by al-Qaida since 2011, as well as Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian, were killed in January in a US strike, President Barack Obama told the press on Thursday.
With “grief and condolences,” the president justified declassifying the fate of the two men “because the Weinstein and the Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth.”
“The United States is a democracy, devoted to openness, in good times and in bad,” Obama said. “As president, and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility.”
Two American operatives of al-Qaida – Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq – were also killed in the January operations.
Farouq died in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, while Gadahn was killed “likely” in a separate operation, said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
“Neither was specifically targeted,” Earnest said.
Senior administration officials said the operation to save Weinstein and Lo Porto involved drone strikes and not ground troops.
In his remarks, Obama noted Weinstein’s Jewish faith, which al-Qaida was aware of and repeated in its threats against Weinstein’s life.
“ There could be no starker contrast between these two selfless men and their al-Qaida captives,” Obama said. “Warren’s work benefited people across faiths. Meanwhile, al-Qaida boasted to the world that it held Warren, citing his Jewish faith. Al-Qaida held both men for years, even as Warren’s health deteriorated. They deprived these men of precious, irreplaceable years with family who missed them terribly.”
The president said he has ordered a full review of the events that unfolded in Pakistan.
The government in Islamabad declined to comment on the news, which amounts to a rare admission of an operation within Pakistan itself.
In a prepared statement, the Weinstein family said it was “devastated by this news” and there were “no words to do justice to the disappointment and heartbreak we are going through.”
“We do not yet fully understand all of the facts surrounding Warren’s death,” the statement reads,” but we do understand that the US government will be conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances.”
They look forward to the outcome of that investigation, the family added.
Weinstein, 73, of Rockville, Maryland, was kidnapped in August 2011 in Lahore, Pakistan, while working for J.E. Austin Associates, a private company that advises Pakistani businesses.
Weinstein also had worked with the Peace Corps and with USAID, and prior to his abduction had spent seven years in Pakistan working to improve local communities through projects related to dairy production, farming and health care, according to his family.
During his captivity, Weinstein appeared in several videos appealing directly to US and even Israeli officials. As time progressed, Weinstein appeared with a beard that grew longer and grayer.
In a September 2012 video addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Weinstein said: “As a Jew, I am appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish State of Israel, as one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf, to work with the mujahadeen and to accept their demands, so that I can be released and returned to my family, see my wife, my children and my grandchildren again.”
JTA contributed to this report.