In a video made in captivity and released by As-Sahab, the media arm of
al-Qaeda, Warren Weinstein urges the Obama administration to negotiate
for his release.
A U.S. government
contractor kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan in 2011 has
recorded a video message calling on the Obama administration to
negotiate with his captors, saying he feels “totally abandoned and
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Warren Weinstein looked ashen and sounded lethargic as he
pleaded for renewed interest in his case and asked the U.S. government
to consider releasing
al-Qaeda militants in its
custody. The 72-year-old development expert from Rockville, Md., began
his address by urging President Obama to step up efforts to get him
“You are now in your second term as president of the United States
and that means that you can take hard decisions without worrying about
reelection,” said Weinstein, who was recorded sitting against a white
wall wearing a gray tracksuit top and a black woolen hat. No one else
appeared in the video.
The video, which included the yellow logo
of As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media production outlet, was sent in an
anonymous e-mail to several journalists who have reported from
Afghanistan. Included were links to a handwritten note that purports to
be from Weinstein, saying “Letter to Media” at the top. The note is
dated Oct. 3. It is not clear when the video was made.
Department spokeswoman and a member of Weinstein’s family said Wednesday
night that they had not independently received the note or video. The
Washington Post provided a copy to both of them.
spokeswoman Marie Harf later said that U.S. officials were “working hard
to authenticate” the contents of the message.
“We reiterate our
call that Warren Weinstein be released and returned to his family,” she
said in a statement. “Particularly during this holiday season — another
one away from his family — our hopes and prayers are with him and those
who love and miss him.”
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman
said in a statement issued in December 2011 that Weinstein would be
freed if Washington stopped launching air strikes in Pakistan,
Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. He also demanded the release of all
imprisoned members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The following year,
Zawahri urged followers to kidnap Westerners to gain more leverage in
al-Qaeda’s bid to get prominent jihadists freed from U.S. custody. Among
the top priorities for the group is the release of Sheikh Omar
Abdel-Rahman, a blind Egyptian who was convicted of orchestrating the
1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The Obama administration has
said it will not negotiate with al-Qaeda for Weinstein’s release. The
United States as a matter of policy generally does not negotiate with
kidnappers, but the government devotes resources to finding Americans
The new video appeared to be the captive’s first proof of life since a video statement
released in September 2012. In that statement, Weinstein appealed to
Israel’s prime minister “as one Jew to another,” asking him to help
build support to meet al-Qaeda’s demands for his release.
Weinstein did not say what specific steps the Obama administration
could take to secure his release. He did say, however, that his captors
have agreed to arrange for relatives to visit him in custody if the
United States releases unspecified prisoners as part of a “quid pro
Weinstein also addressed Secretary of State John F. Kerry,
telling him his captors have kept him abreast of peace deals that the
top U.S. diplomat has sought to broker. Weinstein said a “first step” to
getting him released would require taking “action with respect to their
people who are being held as prisoners.”
“If anyone in the Obama
government can understand my predicament it is yourself,” Weinstein
said. “I hope that one day soon I will be able to meet you as a free man
and thank you for your efforts.”
Weinstein appeared troubled that the media have not covered his case more extensively. The
handwritten note pleaded with journalists to keep his case in the news,
to ensure “that I am not forgotten and just become another statistic.”
At the end of the video, he addressed his relatives, saying: “I
would like them to know I love them very much and I think about each and
every one of them every moment of every day.”
Weinstein was the
Pakistan director of J.E. Austin Associates, a USAID contractor, when he
was taken hostage in Lahore, Pakistan, on Aug. 13, 2011.
Weinstein said in the video that he is suffering from a heart condition and acute asthma.
“The years have taken their toll,” he said.