An American and an Italian who had been held hostage for several years by al Qaeda were inadvertently killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan in January, President Barack Obama said on Thursday.
The operation in which American doctor Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto were killed also resulted in the death of an American al Qaeda leader, Ahmed Farouq, the White House said. Another American al Qaeda member, Adam Gadahn, was also killed, likely in a separate operation, the White House added.
U.S. government sources said the operations involved drone strikes. Such strikes have long been used by the administration of Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, in counterterrorism operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and elsewhere.
Use of drones has been controversial because of the deaths of civilians who were not targeted and because on occasion they have involved killing Americans abroad without judicial process.
The United States is conducting a review to understand how the operation killed the unintended targets, Obama said in an appearance at the White House. He added:
“I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”
Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni called the incident a “tragic and fatal error … that our American partners made,” but said Lo Porto’s death was “entirely the responsibility of the terrorists.”
Although the operation took place in January, a U.S. official said authorities concluded only a few days ago that the two hostages were killed.
Obama said the U.S. intelligence had hundreds of hours of surveillance on the compound targeted in the attack and there had been no signs that Weinstein and Lo Porto were held there.