Warren Weinstein Begged Obama to Save Him Four Years Before U.S. Drone Killed Him
Editor’s Note: The U.S. announced on April 23, 2015 that Weinstein was killed in a drone strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
It was before dawn the morning of Aug. 13, 2011, when a group of men armed with assault rifles knocked on Warren Weinstein's front gate in the Lahore suburb of Model Town, an upscale neighborhood where Benazir Bhutto is said to have had a house. Weinstein was working as country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a consulting firm based in Arlington, Va., that contracts with the Pakistani government. The 70-year-old was helping to create small businesses in tumultuous regions in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
It was the beginning of more than two years in captivity for Weinstein, who was accidently killed by a U.S. drone strike in January, the Obama administration announced Thursday.
Shortly after he was taken captive, Weinstein appeared in a video and directly addressed President Obama.
“My life is in your hands," he told Obama. "If you accept the demands, I live; if you don’t accept the demands, I die,” Weinstein said, referring to a list of demands made by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last year that included an end to American strikes in Pakistan and the release of al Qaeda and Taliban militants detained at Guantánamo Bay.
The day he was captured, three men arrived at the front of Weinstein's house in Pakistan and offered his security guards gifts of food, a common practice among Muslims during Ramadan. At the same time, five men forced their way into the house from the back, overpowering Weinstein’s guards and gagging them. The assailants then made their way to Weinstein’s room, where they pistol-whipped him before taking him to a getaway car.
Weinstein was reportedly in the final hours of his time in Lahore and had packed his bags to leave Pakistan for good.
Weinstein had a house in Rockville, Maryland where he had lived with his wife and daughter for 35 years. Over the course of the five or six years he was working in Pakistan, Weinstein is said to have traveled back and forth to Maryland from time to time.
"We are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home," Elaine Weinstein, his wife said in a statement. "We were so hopeful that those in the U.S. and Pakistani governments with the power to take action and secure his release would have done everything possible to do so and there are no words to do justice to the disappointment and heartbreak we are going through."
Mrs. Weinstein criticized the administration that ended up killing her husband.
“Unfortunately, the assistance we received from other elements of the U.S. government was inconsistent and disappointing over the course of three and a half years. 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.”
Nevertheless, Mrs. Weinstein put the blame for her husband's death on Al Qaeda.
“But those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility. I can assure you that he would still be alive and well if they had allowed him to return home after his time abroad working to help the people of Pakistan. 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.”
After Weinstein's abductors made their escape from Lahore, they are thought to have transported their captive from safe house to safe house across Pakistan over a period of months. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the kidnapping after Weinstein's August disappearance, and Pakistani officials found themselves without a real lead for months.
In late August, Lahore police chief Malik Ahmed Raza Tahir made a hasty announcement that Pakistani police had found and freed Weinstein in the city of Khushab, but only hours later said that his statement had been incorrect. Responding to Tahir's mistake, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad tweeted at the time that "we have no information that would confirm recovery of Warren Weinstein, but we are hoping for a positive outcome."
Al Qaeda finally declared itself responsible for the attack on Weinstein, and sources within the Taliban told reporters that over the intervening months the Pakistani branch of Al Qaeda had cooperated with Al Qaeda to secret Weinstein away to a tribal area of the country near the Afghan border. The Taliban commanders told reporters that they had kept quiet to improve their hand, a strategy that warded off pressure from Pakistani authorities and kept American officials at bay.
“Al Qaeda won’t kill Weinstein,” Mohammed Imran, a Pakistani security analyst said several years ago based on updates from militants. “It will keep him as healthy as possible in the circumstances.”
In the video, Weinstein assured his wife that he was in good health. “I'm getting all my medications, I’m being taken care of.”