U.S. Drone Strike Kills 2 Al-Qaida Hostages, Including An American

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A U.S. drone strike in January killed an American being held hostage in Pakistan by al-Qaida, the White House announced Thursday. Warren Weinstein was killed along with another aid worker, from Italy.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's find out more about the hostages now known to be killed along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. American Warren Weinstein was one of two hostages the U.S. reported as killed by mistake in a U.S. drone strike. His family is remembering his life, which was devoted to aid work overseas. That work brought Weinstein to Pakistan, where he was kidnapped by al-Qaida four years ago. NPR's Philip Reeves has more from Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Weinstein was killed in January. We're only hearing about it now, say officials, because it took a while for U.S. intelligence to discover what really happened. The White House says the actual target was an al-Qaida compound. U.S. intelligence officials were as certain as they could be that al-Qaida militants were inside. They were right. What they didn't know was that 73-year-old Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker, were there, too.

Weinstein was in Pakistan as a consultant to a company working on a U.S. government aid project. He was snatched from his house in the city of Lahore in 2011 during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. His abductors reportedly tricked his guards by offering to share their ritual predawn breakfast. He'd been just about to return home to the U.S. Lo Porto, who was in his late 30s, was kidnapped the following year. He'd only just arrived in Pakistan to help build homes for flood victims. Political analyst and journalist Raza Rumi worked with Weinstein for several years on a development project.

RAZA RUMI: He wanted to contribute to change, and it breaks my heart when I think that he's no more.

REEVES: Raza Rumi describes Weinstein as a courteous, humorous man who was...

RUMI: Always in a good mood, pleasant, used to wear local dress, had learned the local language also. He liked Pakistan very much. He loved it, in fact.

REEVES: During his captivity, al-Qaida released a video in which Weinstein addresses President Obama. As a hostage, Weinstein is speaking under duress. Weinstein said he was suffering from acute asthma, a heart condition and constant mental anguish.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN WEINSTEIN: Nine years ago, I came to Pakistan to help my government. And I did so at a time when most Americans would not come here. And now when I need my government, it seems that I have been totally abandoned.

REEVES: Weinstein appeals to the president to instruct officials to negotiate his release. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says the government was working hard on trying to rescue Weinstein. But on the issue of negotiation, policy is clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSH EARNEST: As painful as it is, it is a policy that prevents the United States from negotiating with terrorists.

REEVES: Yesterday, President Obama paid tribute to Weinstein and Lo Porto, accepted full responsibility for what happened and apologized to their families. There were no tributes for two other American citizens also killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AHMED FAROUQ: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: That's al-Qaida's Ahmed Farouq. He died in the same attack as Weinstein and Lo Porto. U.S. officials say Farouq was a senior leader in al-Qaida's new South Asia affiliate. Oregon-born Adam Gadahn was killed by a separate drone strike. He was an al- Qaida propagandist facing treason charges in the U.S. Officials say neither man was specifically targeted.

Yesterday's revelations are raising big and difficult questions about America's use of drone strikes. An ACLU official said that the U.S. quite literally didn't know who it was killing. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.