US drone strike on Al-Qaeda kills two hostages, Obama takes responsibility
US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on April 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGANU.S. President Barack Obama said April 23 he takes "full responsibility" for a U.S. counterterrorism mission that inadvertently killed an American and an Italian held hostage by al-Qaeda. He defended the legality of the January drone strike against an al-Qaeda compound and said there had been no information suggesting the hostages were at that location.
"Based on the intelligence that we had obtained at the time, including hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this was an al-Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present and that capturing these terrorists was not possible," Obama said in remarks from the White House. "And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al-Qaeda."
Among the al-Qaeda operatives believed killed in the strike was American Ahmed Farouq, who the White House says was an al-Qaeda leader. U.S. officials have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who had served as a spokesman for the terror network, was killed in a separate operation in January.
The president made no mention of Farouq and Gadahn. Instead, he focused his remarks on American Warren Weinstein, who had been held by al-Qaeda since 2011, and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, who had been held since 2012.
Obama expressed regret for the deaths of the two men and offered his "grief and condolences" to their families.
He later appeared in a video in which, under apparent coercion, he asked the United States to free Al-Qaeda prisoners.
Lo Porto disappeared in January 2012 in Pakistan.
"Analysis of all available information has led the intelligence community to judge with high confidence that the operation accidentally killed both hostages," the White House said.
"The operation targeted an Al Qaeda-associated compound, where we had no reason to believe either hostage was present, located in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan."
The White House statement did not identify which US agency carried out the operation, which suggests it was carried out by an intelligence service rather than a military unit.
"We have concluded that Ahmed Faruq, an American who was an Al Qaeda leader, was killed in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto," the White House said.
"We have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent member of Al-Qaeda, was killed in January, likely in a separate US Government counterterrorism operation," it added.
"While both Faruq and Gadahn were Al-Qaeda members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations."