WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Thursday he takes “full responsibility” for a U.S. counterterrorism mission that inadvertently killed an American and an Italian held hostage by al-Qaida. He defended the legality of the January drone strike against an al-Qaida compound and said there had been no information suggesting the hostages were at that location.
“Based on the intelligence that we had obtained at the time, including hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this was an al-Qaida compound, that no civilians were present and that capturing these terrorists was not possible,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. “And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al-Qaida.”
The White House said American Warren Weinstein, an American held by al-Qaida since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national held by al-Qaida since 2012, were killed in a January operation in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The operation targeted an al-Qaida-associated compound and there was no reason to believe either hostage was present at the location, the White House said.
U.S. government officials said the CIA carried out the drone strikes on Jan. 14 and Jan. 19 in Pakistan. The White House said the strikes happened in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The officials were not authorized to discuss details of the attacks and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Among the al-Qaida operatives believed killed in the strike was American Ahmed Farouq, who the White House says was an al-Qaida leader. U.S. officials have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who had served as a spokesman for the terror network, was killed in a separate operation in January.
The president made no mention of Farouq and Gadahn. Instead, he focused his remarks on American Warren Weinstein, who had been held by al-Qaida since 2011, and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, who had been held since 2012.
Obama expressed regret for the deaths of the two men and offered condolences to their families.
“I realize there are no words that can ever equal their loss,” said Obama, adding that he had spoken with Weinstein’s wife and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Weinstein, a 73-year-old development worker, was abducted in August 2011. His capture came four days before his seven-year stint with the U.S. Agency for International Development was to end.
In a message released previously in English and Arabic and addressed to Weinstein’s family, al-Qaida had said it was “not interested in keeping” Weinstein but wanted to exchange him for prisoners in U.S. custody.
Lo Porto was an Italian aid worker who worked for the German aid group Welthungerhilfe. He went missing in Pakistan in January 2012.
A spokeswoman for the aid group said the organization was shocked at the news of Lo Porto’s death.
“We’re shattered by today’s news,” Simone Pott told The Associated Press. “So much was done to try and get him released,” she said, without elaborating.
Lo Porto had joined the aid group in October 2011 and was working as a project manager in Pakistan’s Multan region when he was kidnapped together with German Bernd Muehlenbeck.
Muehlenbeck was freed last year under circumstances that Pott declined to comment on.
Renzi expressed his “profound pain” over Lo Porto’s death, saying the aid worker had “dedicated his life to the service of others.”
The White House says Farouq and Gadhan were not specifically targeted in the operations, nor did the U.S. have information indicating their presence at the sites.
Report compiled with information from The Associated Press.
Hostages killed in drone strikes
US anti-terror drone strikes have been criticized for killing civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Now comes word a drone strike in January targeting a suspected al Qaeda building killed an American and Italian hostage. The U.S. President has expressed his deep remorse. CCTV’s Nathan King filed this report.
Hostages killed in drone strikesUS anti-terror drone strikes have been criticized for killing civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Now comes word a drone strike in January targeting a suspected al Qaeda building killed an American and Italian hostage. The U.S. President has expressed his deep remorse. CCTV's Nathan King filed this report.
Jonathan Gilliam on the hostage deaths
For more on this tragic story, CCTV spoke to Jonathan Gilliam from New York. Jonathan is a former FBI Special Agent and US Navy SEAL.