Obama: U.S. counter-terrorism operation accidentally killed 2 Americans
(NBC News) - Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American aid worker held hostage by al Qaeda, was accidentally killed in a U.S. drone strike, as was an Italian hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto, and another American who was an al Qaeda leader, the White House announced on Thursday. Officials also announced that a separate strike killed Adam Gadahn, another American who became a prominent propagandist for al Qaeda.
The White House said it was unaware the four were present at the sites, which were hit on Jan. 14 and Jan. 19 near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. President Obama apologized to the families of the hostages and said he took full responsibility as commander in chief.
"As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today," Obama said. "I know there is nothing I could ever say to ease their heartache."
He added, "It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war...mistakes and sometimes deadly mistakes can occur.'
Weinstein, 73, was taken in 2011, four days before his seven-year stint with the U.S. Agency for International Development was due to end. Lo Porto was abducted in 2012, soon after arriving in Pakistan to do humanitarian work.
"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," the White House said in a statement.
"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."
Gadahn — also known as Adam Pearlman and by the nom de guerre Azzam al-Amriki — was born in California and later became an al Qaeda translator. The State Department had offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture.
The 36-year-old's profile rose after the death of Osama bin Laden, when it was discovered he regularly corresponded with the terror boss.