Friday, 24 April 2015

#Terrorism: U.S. strike inadvertently killed U.S., Italian hostages; Obama apologises

U.S. strike inadvertently killed U.S., Italian
hostages; Obama apologises
By Will Dunham and Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike in
January targeting an al Qaeda compound in
Pakistan near the Afghan border inadvertently
killed an American and an Italian who had been
held hostage for years by the group, U.S. officials
said on Thursday.
President Barack Obama apologised and took "full
responsibility" for all counterterrorism operations,
including this one.
The deaths were a setback for the long-running
U.S. drone strike programme that has targeted
Islamist militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan and
elsewhere, and has often drawn criticism in those
countries and from civil liberties groups in the
United States.
Killed in the January drone strike were aid workers
Warren Weinstein, an American held by al Qaeda
since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian who
went missing in Pakistan in 2012, as well as
Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al Qaeda
leader, U.S. officials said.
Adam Gadahn, an American al Qaeda member who
was charged with treason in the United States, was
also killed in a separate strike on another al Qaeda
camp five days later, the officials said.
Obama said he had ordered a full review of the
matter to ensure such mistakes are not repeated.
"I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of
the United States government, I offer our deepest
apologies to the families," Obama told reporters at
the White House.
Republican House of Representatives Speaker
John Boehner and other lawmakers called such a
review appropriate but steered clear of criticizing
the drone programme. Senator Lindsey Graham of
South Carolina, a Republican who is often a fierce
critic of the Democratic president, said Gadahn and
Farouq "got what they deserved."
U.S. officials said the drone strikes occurred inside
Pakistan in the conflict-torn border region near
Afghanistan. One official said the CIA had observed
the compounds over some time but had no idea
hostages were present.
Use of unmanned drones, which enable the United
States to carry out counterterrorism operations
without putting U.S. personnel directly in harm's
way, has prompted criticism because of the deaths
of civilians and because on occasion they have
involved killing Americans abroad without judicial
process.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the
government should better follow its own standards
before launching drone strikes. "In each of the
operations acknowledged today, the U.S. quite
literally didn’t know who it was killing," said Jameel
Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director.
Lo Porto's mother told reporters in Palermo, Sicily:
"I don't want to talk, leave me alone in my grief."
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, speaking in
Brussels, said, "I have much appreciated the
transparency of the United States in taking their
responsibilities for what happened and the way
Obama communicated what happened."
U.S. TREATMENT OF HOSTAGES
Weinstein's wife, Elaine, said her family was
devastated by his death. She criticized the U.S.
government for "inconsistent and disappointing"
assistance during her husband's years in captivity.
Obama said he spoke with her on Wednesday.
Like some other American families whose relatives
have been killed over the past year after being held
hostage by militants in the Middle East, Elaine
Weinstein called for a better U.S. government
policy for relaying information to hostages'
families.
"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 in a
statement.
U.S. congressman John Delaney of Maryland, who
has helped the Weinstein family, and other
lawmakers said the United States needs to do a
better job handling American hostage cases.
Weinstein, 73, was abducted in Lahore, Pakistan,
while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency
for International Development. Al Qaeda had asked
to trade him for members of the group held by the
United States.
Weinstein, who lived in Rockville, Maryland, was
seen in videos released in May 2012 and
December 2013 asking for Obama to intervene on
his behalf and saying he was suffering from heart
problems and asthma.
On Thursday, yellow ribbons were tied on many
trees in his Rockville neighbourhood near
Washington, D.C. Outside his home, there were
vases and bouquets of flowers and clippings of
cherry blossoms.
Italian media said Lo Porto, who was from Palermo,
was kidnapped three days after arriving in
Pakistan to work for a German organisation
building houses for victims of a 2010 flood. Another
man was kidnapped with him but later freed in
October 2014 by German special forces.
The White House said the Weinstein and Lo Porto
families would receive compensation from the U.S.
government.
TREASON CHARGE
An al Qaeda spokesman has said Farouq was the
deputy head of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent
(AQIS), which tried unsuccessfully last year to
hijack a Pakistan warship.
Farouq died in a Jan. 15 drone strike in the
Shawwal area of North Waziristan, AQIS said in a
video on Twitter on April 12, reported by the SITE
monitoring group.
Gadahn was born in Oregon, grew up in California,
converted to Islam at 17 and became a spokesman
and translator for al Qaeda. He was charged by the
United States with treason in 2006, becoming the
first person to face such U.S. charges since the
World War Two era, according to the Justice
Department.
The deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto were the
latest involving Western hostages held by Islamist
militants. Islamic State has beheaded journalists
and aid workers, while an American woman aid
worker it held died in unclear circumstances in
February. An American and a South African held by
an al Qaeda unit in Yemen died in December in a
failed rescue bid by U.S. special forces.
CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have steeply
declined from a peak of around 128 in 2010,
according to the Bureau of Investigative
Journalism, which tracks the strikes. There have
been seven drone strikes in Pakistan this year, the
group said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, John
Clarke, Bill Trott, Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey,
Patricia Zengerle, David Lawder and Emily
Stephenson in Washington, Wladimiro Pantaleone
in Palermo, Katharine Houreld in Islamabad and
Isla Binnie in Rome; Editing by Frances Kerry) of Arise News.

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