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Pakistan: Two Deaths Show US Drone Risks

An image made from video released anonymously to reporters in Pakistan on Dec. 26, 2013 shows 72-year-old American development worker Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped by al-Qaida, appealing to President Obama to negotiate his release.

Pakistan has expressed "shock and sorrow" after it emerged that a U.S. counterterrorism operation accidentally killed two male hostages — an American aid worker and an Italian — held by al-Qaida on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its "heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families," and said the death of the two hostages "in a drone strike demonstrates the risk and unintended consequences of the use of this technology that Pakistan has been highlighting for a long time."

A U.S. official told VOA Thursday the hostages — American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto — were killed during airstrikes by unmanned drone aircraft on January 14.

President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, April 23, 2015.
President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, April 23, 2015.

President Barack Obama personally apologized for the incident. "As president and commander-in-chief I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the ones that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni," Obama said at the White House. "I profoundly regret what happened."

Obama told reporters, "Based on the intelligence that we obtained at the time, including hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed this was an al-Qaida compound, that no civilians were present and that capturing these terrorists was not possible."

U.S. officials say Ahmed Farouq, an American whom the White House says was an al-Qaida leader, was killed in the same operation. 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 American operation in January.

"While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qaida members, neither was specifically targeted," the White House statement said, and there was no "information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations."

A U.S. official told VOA that they "had near clarity” on what was targeted on January 14 and 19, after intelligence showed "a pattern of life" at the compound and "assessed with a very high level of confidence the compounds hosted only al-Qaida members."

“These hostages had been hidden and well-concealed," the official said.

The White House says the president did not personally sign off on the two specific strikes in which the hostages were killed.

Lo Porto was kidnapped in January 2012 while working in Pakistan for the German aid group Welthungerhilfe.

Weinstein, who was from a suburb of Washington, was 73 years old. He was a business-development expert working in Pakistan on a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He had been in Pakistan for close to seven years when the gunmen stormed his residence and took him away in 2011.

In a statement, his wife Elaine Weinstein said the family cannot even begin to express the pain they are going through. She said while they look forward to the results of a U.S. government investigation into the circumstances of his death, the "ultimate responsibility" is with those who took Warren captive.

She also expressed disappointment with the government and military in Pakistan whom she says "failed to take action earlier in his captivity when the opportunity presented itself."

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