United States President Barack Obama has announced that two innocent hostages were killed in a US drone strike on the Pakistan - Afghanistan border in January.
Speaking in White House briefing room, Obama somberly admitted that Warren Weinstein, an American citizen, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national, were inadvertently killed in an operation targeting a compound believed to be an Al-Qaeda site.
“I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families,” Obama said.
“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.”
The deaths come as the latest blow to an already controversial drone program that is heavily used by Obama administration in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.
“I think that it puts a lot of pressure on the U.S. government rationale of needing to keep things secret for national security purposes," said Naureen Shah, the director of the Security and Human Rights program in Amnesty International USA.
Warren Weinstein (73), an American aid worker for USAID, was abducted by Al-Qaeda in 2011 from Lahore, Pakistan.
His wife, Elaine Weinstein, put out a statement on behalf of his family following Obama’s announcement, saying “we are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home.”
After thanking congressman and senators from Maryland, where the family resides, Mrs. Weinstein went on to criticise the U.S. government, stating “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.”
Giovanni Lo Porto was also an aid worker and held by Al-Qaeda since 2012.
"I express my deepest sorry for the death of an Italian, who has dedicated his life to the service of others,” said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
In the same drone strike that killed the two innocent hostages, Ahmed Farouq - an American senior Al-Qaeda operative - was also killed, the White House said.
In a separate operation another senior American Al-Qaeda member, Adam Gadahn, was killed in Pakistan, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
The Obama administration has been heavily relying on drone strikes in their operations against al-Qaeda and other illegal groups since 2009
In Pakistan alone US drone strikes have killed at least more than 2000 people - at least 256 of whom were civilians - since Obama became president.
The US government has faced several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits in the past from The American Civil Liberties Union to obtain more data about the policies, strategies and victims of the drone program, however they failed to produce any additional information.
Answering questions from reporters, Earnest defended the drone strikes despite the deaths of the hostages, saying they had “no reason to believe either hostage was present” during the strike.
“We can't conduct an Osama bin Laden-style raid against every terrorist,” he added.
However, John Delaney, the member of Congress representing the county where Weinstein’s family resides, criticised the US government, defining Warren Weinstein’s death as “a sobering national security and government failure.”
“I feel like his country failed him in his greatest time of need,” he added.