What We Know So Far
- Two hostages were killed in a U.S. operation against al-Qaeda in January, President Obama said Thursday.
- The hostages are "Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held by al-Qaeda since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national who had been an al-Qaeda hostage since 2012," a White house statement said.
- The operation that killed the hostages involved a CIA drone strike, the Wall Street Journal reported.
- President Obama said "there is nothing I can ever do or say to ease [their families'] heartache" and "I profoundly regret what happened."
- Weinstein's wife, Elaine, said in a statement that while some Congress members and the FBI worked to free her husband, "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."
- Two other Americans affiliated with al-Qaeda were also killed. Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al-Qaeda leader, was killed in the operation that involved the dead hostages. Adam Gadahn, an American who was a member of al-Qaeda, was killed in January in a separate incident.
- Obama said, "I take full responsibility" and "mistakes, sometimes, deadly mistakes, can occur" in counterterrorism actions.
Watch video of Obama's statement:
The Weinstein family's spokesperson released this statement after BuzzFeed News asked if the family had paid Weinstein's captors ransom in 2012, as reported by CNN.
"Over the three and a half year period of Warren's captivity, the family made every effort to engage with those holding him or those with the power to find and rescue him," the statement read.
"This is an ordinary American family and they are not familiar with how one manages a kidnapping. As such, they took the advice of those in government who deal with such issues on a regular basis and were disappointed that their efforts were not ultimately successful."
Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz responded to the news in separate statements:
Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement, “We are all safer because of the actions taken every day around the world by our government..."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Dr. Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. Their deaths remind us of the cruelty and persistence of Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists who put these innocent civilians in harm's way.
"We are all safer because of the actions taken every day around the world by our government to go after those who wish Americans harm and to prevent future attacks against us here at home. There is an investigation underway, and that will hopefully provide more clarity on how this happened and how similar tragedies can be avoided in the future."
"It is a tragedy that the hostages lost their lives, my prayers and thoughts are with their families," Sen. Rand Paul said in a statement. Paul has been critical in the past of the use of drones as part of the U.S.'s counterterrorism strategy.
Sen. Ted Cruz said, "Responsibility for their deaths lies firmly and unequivocally with the terrorists who kidnapped them."
Here's what President Obama said about the operation:
"Based on the intelligence that we had obtained at the time, including hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this was an al Qaeda compound; that no civilians were present; and that capturing these terrorists was not possible. And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al Qaeda. What we did not know, tragically, is that al Qaeda was hiding the presence of Warren and Giovanni in this same compound."
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, who the family thanked in their statement, said he wants to see "justice for his needless suffering":
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Dr. Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. Their legacies of altruism, compassion and service to mankind stand in sharp contrast to that of their captors. Their kidnapping and deaths should further unite the international community against the type of extremists who find this deplorable behavior acceptable.
Warren and his wife Elaine are constituents from Rockville, making this tragedy all the more personal and heart wrenching. I have tracked Warren Weinstein's status since he was first taken hostage in 2011. The United States government, including members of my staff, worked tirelessly to bring him home safely. The manner in which Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto were killed makes this situation all the more difficult to process. He and the men and women like him, of all nationalities, who give of themselves to better the world, are assets to humanity.
The United States and our allies must work to ensure that the men and women who dedicate their lives to international development are properly safeguarded against threats. As Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will do all in my power to ensure that Warren Weinstein, his family, and fellow aid workers see justice for his needless suffering at the hands of al-Qaeda. I have received a preliminary briefing from the Director of the CIA, and have requested a full account of the events that led to Dr. Weinstein's and Mr. Lo Porto's deaths.
Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman, released a statement calling Weinstein and Lo Porto “selfless” and “role models.”
She added that the Senate Intelligence Committee has already started reviewing the January operation.
I'm deeply saddened by the announcement that a U.S. counterterrorism operation in January killed two hostages held by al Qaeda, including Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. Both Warren and Giovanni led selfless lives, helping men, women and children around the world. They serve as role models for us all, and my thoughts and prayers are with their families.
The role of the Senate Intelligence Committee is to conduct extensive oversight of counterterrorism operations, and these efforts will continue. The committee has already been reviewing the specific January operation that led to these deaths, and I now intend to review that operation in greater detail. We should also again review all procedures and safeguards to make sure every measure is taken to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians.
I agree with the president that, to the greatest extent possible, more information on U.S. counterterrorism operations should be made public. I believe this should include an annual report on the number of deaths—both combatant and civilian—from U.S. strikes. We must be certain our counterterrorism strategy is aimed at defeating terrorist organizations and that counterterrorism operations, which I believe to be highly successful at removing individual terrorist targets, are furthering that goal.
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, who was also thanked in the Weinstein family's statement, said in a statement she has "questions about how this tragedy occurred."
I was truly heartbroken to learn of the news of Warren Weinstein's death. I, along with many of my colleagues in the Maryland delegation, have worked closely with the Weinstein family in an effort to find Dr. Weinstein and reunite him with his loved ones.
His wife, Elaine, and daughters, Jen and Alisa, are brave beyond measure. I hope that we can all respect their need for privacy at this time.
Dr. Weinstein dedicated his life to improving the conditions of others all around the world and his legacy is truly immeasurable. His humanitarian service, and that of Mr. LoPorto, stands in stark and shining contrast to the depravity of their captors.
I extend my sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Lo Porto of our great ally Italy as well.
Moving forward, I have many questions about how this tragedy occurred, and I urge a comprehensive U.S. Government review of the case as soon as possible.
Here is a photo of Giovanni Lo Porto, who was also killed in the January attack.
Congressman John Delaney, who was thanked by the Weinstein family, said he is "disappointed and outraged" that the U.S. government was not able to rescue Weinstein.
"As Warren's representative, I feel like his country failed him in his greatest time of need," he said in a statement. "I am determined to ensure that Warren's story is not forgotten, that we get to the bottom of why Warren wasn't found and how he was killed."
Read the full statement below:
"The loss of Warren is devastating, a tragic event that we must never forget. Warren was a beloved husband, father and grandfather. Warren's family has endured his long captivity with incredible strength, dignity and resolve. At this heart-rending time, April and I send our prayers to Warren's family, including his wife Elaine, daughters Alisa and Jennifer and the rest of his family. Over the last two years, I feel so fortunate to have developed a relationship with them as we've pursued efforts to bring Warren home. I wish I would have had an opportunity to meet Warren. People in his life all say Warren was a warm friend to people around the world, a man who served our country as a member of the Peace Corps and at USAID. Warren represented the very best of our country; he was a gentle and loving man who dedicated his career to building a better world. We need more Warren Weinsteins in the world.
"Warren was taken from his family and held hostage by terrorists who hold no decency and no humanity. Their actions will not deter us for one second in our efforts to defeat them and bring them to justice.
"I'm saddened, disappointed and outraged that our government was not able to bring Warren home. Today's news is a personal tragedy for Warren's family but also a sobering national security and government failure. As Warren's representative, I feel like his country failed him in his greatest time of need. I'm determined to ensure that Warren's story is not forgotten, that we get to the bottom of why Warren wasn't found and how he was killed, and that we drive tangible improvements to our hostage response process from an intelligence and resources coordination perspective. I have been working on legislation to reform, streamline and upgrade our ability to respond to hostage taking, which I plan to introduce soon, in the hope that more families don't suffer the same fate. It is essential that the review of this tragic accident be a true investigation that focuses on the events surrounding Warren's death and the intelligence efforts that were deployed to locate him. Our national security and intelligence response to hostages must improve and improve quickly.
"My thoughts and condolences are also with the family of Giovanni Lo Porto, an aid worker held hostage with Warren Weinstein."
In a statement, Weinstein’s wife thanked specific government officials for their efforts but added that, “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.”
She added that the entire family is devastated and heartbroken over Weinstein's death and that expressed disappointment in Pakistan's government and military.
Read the full statement below:
"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. 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. We look forward to the results of that investigation. 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 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," Mrs. Weinstein said.
"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."
While working as an economic development advisor, Weinstein was captured from his home in Lahore, Pakistan on August 13, 2011, and was held hostage for more than three and a half years.
"I want to thank Congressman John Delaney, Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Senator Ben Cardin – as well as specific officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation – for their relentless efforts to free my husband." Mrs. Weinstein added, "Unfortunately, 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. 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. I hope the nature of our future relationship with Pakistan is reflective of how they prioritize situations such as these."
Warren Weinstein was kidnapped in August 2011 after armed men broke into his home in the middle of the night in Lahore, Pakistan, according to the New York Times.
Warren, who was 70 years old at the time of his abduction, had been in Pakistan for seven years as the Pakistani director for J. E. Austin Associates, an international development consulting company.
He worked on exporting Pakistani products such as dairy, furniture, and medical instruments, according to the Times.
In May 2012, a video was released in which Weinstein appealed to President Obama to negotiate his release.
"My life is in your hands, Mr. President. If you accept the demands, I live. If you don't accept the demands, then I die," he said on the 2-minute-52-second-long video.
Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al-Qaeda, said Weinstein would be released if the U.S. released several men convicted in the 1993 World Trace Center bombing and stopped all airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.
In the 2012 video, Weinstein also addressed his wife, Elaine, telling her he was receiving medical treatment.
"We will identify the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy and any changes that should be made," Obama said.
Obama said he was unaware al-Qaeda was hiding Weinstein and Lo Porto at the compound. He said the drone attacks that killed the two men were under established protocols.
He added that he has directed a full review of what happened.
President Barack Obama said Dr. Warren Weinstein was taken hostage by al-Qaeda in 2011, while he was an aid worker in Pakistan.
Weinstein and an Italian hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto, were killed in January during a U.S.-led counterterrorism operation.
"No words that can ever equal their loss," Obama said.
Here's the White House statement:
It is with tremendous sorrow that we recently concluded that a U.S. Government counterterrorism operation in January killed two innocent hostages held by al-Qa'ida. Our hearts go out to the families of Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held by al-Qa'ida since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national who had been an al-Qa'ida hostage since 2012. Analysis of all available information has led the Intelligence Community to judge with high confidence that the operation accidentally killed both hostages. The operation targeted an al-Qa'ida-associated compound, where we had no reason to believe either hostage was present, located in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy.
We also believe two other Americans were recently killed in U.S. Government counterterrorism operations in the same region. We have concluded that Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al-Qa'ida leader, was killed in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto. We have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent member of al-Qa'ida, was killed in January, likely in a separate U.S. Government counterterrorism operation. While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qa'ida members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations.
The President directed that the information being shared today, which was properly classified until now, be declassified and shared with the American people. He takes full responsibility for these operations and believes it is important to provide the American people with as much information as possible about our counterterrorism operations, particularly when they take the lives of fellow citizens. The uniquely tragic nature of the operation that resulted in the deaths of two innocent hostages is something we will do our utmost to ensure is not repeated. To this end, although the operation was lawful and conducted consistent with our counterterrorism policies, we are conducting a thorough independent review to understand fully what happened and how we can prevent this type of tragic incident in the future.
Many within our government spent years attempting to locate and free Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto. The pain of their deaths will remain with us as we rededicate ourselves to adhering to the most exacting standards in doing all we can to protect the American people.
Reporting by Tom Namako and Mary Ann Georgantopoulos in New York and Kate Nocera in Washington, D.C.
This is a developing story. Please check back here and at BuzzFeed News on Twitter for updates.