He was four days away from leaving Pakistan alive, spent nearly four years as an Al Qaeda hostage — and died three months ago as the victim of an errant U.S. drone attack.
Warren Weinstein, 73, of Rockville, Md., was killed alongside an Italian hostage in the January airstrike targeting terrorists in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, a deeply apologetic President Obama said Thursday.
The American hostage’s long-suffering wife, after hearing the news directly from Obama, struggled to explain her roiling emotions.
“There are no words to do justice to the disappointment and heartbreak we are going through,” spouse Elaine Weinstein said in a statement. “We cannot even begin to express the pain our family is going through.”
Killed along with Weinstein was Italian national Giovanni LoPorto, 39 — held hostage since his January 2012 abduction by Al Qaeda.
LoPorto’s mother, devastated by the stunning news after three years of fruitless hope and prayers, could muster few words.
“Leave me with my pain,” she told ANSA, the Italian news agency.
Obama announced a “full review” of what went so shockingly wrong in the friendly-fire deaths. The President provided no specifics, other than to cite “the fog of war.”
“As a husband and a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and LoPorto families are enduring,” the President said. “I realize there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”
The deaths were expected to draw increased scrutiny of the administration’s use of drones to take out terrorists.
The unmanned strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces, along with other terrorists, came with widespread charges in Pakistan of massive civilian casualties.
“This incident clearly demonstrates the need to understand the role intelligence plays in the targeting of these strikes, and the process by which these types of decisions are made,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Md.).
“The deaths of two innocent aid workers offer a grim reminder of the perils of our fight against terrorism.”
Two American citizens turned Al Qaeda operatives were also killed during anti-terrorist offensives in January. Ahmed Farouq, a senior Al Qaeda leader in India, perished in the same attack that killed the hostages, officials said.
A small number of terrorists died along with Farouq and the two innocents. U.S. officials said intelligence information steered them to the Al Qaeda compound — but failed to uncover the presence of the hostages.
Killed in a separate January attack was Adam Gadahn — formerly Adam Pearlman, a California kid. The one-time Al Qaeda spokesman, who used the name “Azzam the American,” had been charged with treason by U.S. authorities, who placed a $1 million bounty on his head in 2006.
Neither Farouq nor Gadahn was the target of either attack, officials said.
The globetrotting Weinstein was abducted in the summer of 2011, just 96 hours before the end of his seven-year stretch working with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
He spoke Urdu, and wore traditional Pakistani garments during his time in the country. Weinstein was living in a wealthy section of Lahore when armed men broke into his home and took him hostage.
“Warren represented the best of our country,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.). “He was a gentle and loving man who dedicated his career to building a better world.”
His family, on the website www.bringwarrenhome.com, remembered Weinstein as a devoted father, husband and grandfather who made a point of contacting his family every day while working far from home.
“He worked tirelessly to help others since beginning his career as a human rights advocate in 1969,” the family said. “Weinstein devoted his entire life to helping people around the world become economically self-sufficient.
“He was a gentle man who was in Pakistan to help the people of Pakistan.”
He was kidnapped near the end of his stint as an adviser with J.E. Austin Associates, based in Arlington, Va. During his seven-year stay, Elaine Weinstein and his daughter spent time with him in Pakistan.
Weinstein, a Fulbright scholar, learned to speak seven languages fluently during his 40-plus year career. He was survived by his wife, daughters Alisa and Jennifer, and two grandchildren.
The balding, bearded LoPorto worked briefly on projects in central Africa and Haiti before visiting Pakistan, where he became deeply involved in work to upgrade sanitation and the local water supply.
LoPorto, a native of Palermo, was popular with fellow aid workers and was regarded as “a warm, friendly, open-minded person,” his former instructor, Prof. Mike Newman, told The Guardian.
Newman said LoPorto established good relationships with the Pakistani locals and was thrilled by his return to the country just weeks prior to the kidnapping.
“I’m happy to be back … I do love the people, the culture and the food,” LoPorto told Newman about his fateful final trip.
A spokeswoman for Welthungerhilfe, the German aid group LoPorto joined in October 2011, said his friends were “shattered by today’s news. So much was done to try and get him released.”
Obama compared the two aid workers with their bloodthirsty captors: “There could be no starker contrast.”
While details on the disastrous strike remained sketchy, the Central Intelligence Agency — responsible for covert drone strikes in Pakistan — briefed Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on the botched attack.
Cardin is the highest ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
While Obama took full responsibility, Elaine Weinstein pointed the finger at the Al Qaeda terrorists who invaded his home on Aug. 13, 2011.
“Those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility,” she wrote.
“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.”
The widow’s Maryland neighbors, many with yellow ribbons tied around trees in their front yards, sent condolences to the Weinstein family as the sad news spread.
“I always wondered how he could be in a place like Pakistan,” said neighbor Ed Waggoner, 90. “He wanted to help those people, and it cost him his life. He was always willing to help us, always had a smile on his face. He was a lovely man.”
Meredith McCain, who lives across the street from Elaine Weinstein, said her neighbor had remained optimistic despite the dire situation.
“She was being super-positive and holding out hope and keeping the house ready for his return,” she said. “We are all very devastated that her hopes aren’t going to happen.”
Warren Weinstein was last seen alive in a 2013 Al Qaeda video, in which he begged for help. He was in “extremely poor health” with heart problems and severe asthma, according to family members.
The independent investigation announced by Obama was hailed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
“As President Obama indicated, this is not a time for excuses,” he said. “We need all the facts — for the families, and so that we can make sure nothing like this ever happens again in our efforts to keep Americans safe.”
Elaine Weinstein said she was looking forward to the results of the probe — and to a change in the way America handles its hostage situations in the age of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
“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,” she said.
With Cameron Joseph in Rockville, Md., and Dan Friedman in Washington.
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With Terrance Nelson