White House: Three Americans Killed in Counterterrorism Operations
Administration officials said Thursday that one American hostage and two American al-Qaida operatives were killed during U.S. military operations.
Three Americans, one of whom was a hostage held by al-Qaida, were killed during counterterrorism operations this year near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the White House said Thursday morning.
The White House said two hostages, Warren Weinstein, an American who had been held by the terrorist group since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national held captive since 2012, were accidentally killed during a military operation in January.
President Obama said during a statement from the White House later Thursday morning that he takes "full responsibility" for the operations.
"As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni," he said. "I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families."
Obama said that he had directed his national security team "to do everything possible" to locate Weinstein after he was kidnapped. Weinstein had been in Pakistan on a four-year aid project funded by the U.S. government. Two days before Weinstein was due to return to the U.S., he was captured in his home by al-Qaida operatives.
The president said the January operation successfully targeted members of al-Qaida.
"We do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al-Qaida," Obama said. "What we did not know, tragically, was al-Qaida was hiding the presence of Warren and Giovanni in this same compound."
The White House said Thursday that it "had no reason to believe" either hostage was present at the targeted al-Qaida compound. Officials also said that two other Americans, both members of al-Qaida, were also "recently" killed in a counterterrorism operation in the same region. Ahmed Farouq, an al-Qaida leader, was killed in the same operation that claimed Weinstein and Lo Porto's lives. Adam Gadahn was killed in January, in what the statement said was "likely" in a separate military operation.
"While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qa'ida members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations," Earnest said.
The information, which was classified until now, was released at Obama's request, the statement read. "[The president] 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," Earnest said. "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."
In 2013, Sen. Lindsey Graham said that Gadahn, one of the Americans killed who was affiliated with al-Qaida, "should be considered an enemy combatant" and that "the use of lethal force" against him "is appropriate and should be utilized without hesitation." Gadahn, who had served as a spokesperson and propagandist for al-Qaida, is on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List and had been indicted for treason.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.