On Thursday, President Obama took responsibility for the deaths of an American and Italian held hostage by Al Qaeda who were accidentally killed earlier this year during a U.S. counterterrorism operation. American development expert Warren Weinstein and Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto were apparently killed by a drone strike during the operation that also killed two American terror operatives.
“As President and Commander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations -- including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni.
"I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government offer our deepest apologies to the families.
"As soon as we determined the cause of their deaths, I directed that the existence of this operation be declassified and disclosed publicly. I did so because the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth. And I did so because even as certain aspects of our national security efforts have to remain secret in order to succeed, the United States is a democracy committed to openness in good times and in bad.
"Our initial assessment indicates that this operation was fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region, which has been our focus for years because it is the home of al Qaeda’s leadership. And 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," President Obama said.
Weinstein, 73, was an American contractor working in Lahore, Pakistan, when he was abducted outside his home on Aug. 13, 2011, by Al Qaeda operatives. In a written statement, Weinstein’s wife, Elaine Weinstein, said “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," Elaine Weinstein said.
“Warren Weinstein did not have to die. His death is further evidence of the failures in communication and coordination between government agencies tasked with recovering Americans in captivity – and the fact that he’s dead, as a result, is absolutely tragic," Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said.
The White House identified the two Americans working with Al Qaeda that were killed as Ahmed Farouq, an American Al Qaeda leader, and American-born Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also released the following 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."