An American and an Italian held hostage by Al Qaeda were accidentally killed in a U.S. counter terrorism operation earlier this year, the White House said Thursday, in a stunning and tragic admission.
The White House also revealed that two American terror operatives were killed, but the revelation that hostages died — in an apparent drone strike — is leading to what President Obama called a “full review.”
Obama, speaking from the White House, expressed “grief and condolences” for the deaths of the hostages, American development expert Warren Weinstein and Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto.
“I profoundly regret what happened,” Obama said, offering his “deepest apologies” to the families.
The White House said they were both “accidentally killed” in the operation in January. A senior defense official told Fox News the hostages were killed in a drone strike.
“No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy,” the White House said in a statement.
“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,” the White House said.
The White House revealed that two Americans working with Al Qaeda were killed as well.
Ahmed Farouq, an American Al Qaeda leader, was killed in the same operation in which the hostages died. American-born Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn was killed in January in a separate incident, according to the White House.
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.
Weinstein, 73, was an American contractor working in Lahore, Pakistan, when he was snatched outside his home on Aug. 13, 2011, by Al Qaeda operatives. The Maryland resident and professor at State University of New York at Oswego was later seen in four “proof-of-life” videos, the most recent of which was released in December, 2013. In that video, Weinstein appeared in a tan track suit with a wool cap and pleaded with the U.S. to come to his aid.
“And now, when I need my government, it seems that I have been totally abandoned and forgotten,” Weinstein says, apparently reading from a script. “I again appeal to you … to negotiate my release,” he said on the tape.
Gadahn, 36, the first widely known American to join Al Qaeda, grew up in Orange County, Calif., in a family with Christian and Jewish roots. He converted to Islam at age 17, and began studying Islam at the Islamic Society of Orange County.
Gadahn reportedly moved to Pakistan in 1998, where he married an Afghan refugee and later joined Al Qaeda.
In 2001, he cut off contact with his family in California, and in the years following the 9/11 attacks, became a prominent spokesman for the terrorist group, appearing under the name “Azzam Al-Amriki” with Usama Bin Laden in videos justifying and threatening further attacks.
In 2006, Gadahn was placed on the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Rewards for Justice Program list of wanted criminals. And indicted by a California federal grand jury on charges of treason.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.