A US citizen kidnapped last August in Pakistan has appeared for the first time in a video statement calling on US officials and President Obama to accept Al Qaeda’s demands in exchange for his release. The video appeared on several Islamic extremist websites on Sunday, but it remains unclear when it was made.
“My life is in your hands, Mr. President,” said hostage Warren Weinstein in the video, as described by the Associated Press. “If you accept the demands, I live; if you don't accept the demands, then I die."
Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s leader claimed responsibility for the abduction in an audio recording last December. The group’s demands include the release of several Al Qaeda members tied to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and an end to US air strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.
The latest video further identifies Al Qaeda with the kidnapping of the elderly Mr. Weinstein, a dubious public relations strategy, notes the Monitor's Dan Murphy: "It's going to be very hard to sell the kidnapping of a 70-year-old unarmed man to the jihadi base as striking a glorious blow in a grand, religious cause – and as evidence that Al Qaeda is back in business."
Gunmen broke into Mr. Weinstein’s home on August 13, just days before he was scheduled to leave Pakistan. He had been working for J.E. Austin Associates, an American company that manages many contracts for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The BBC reports that he had nearly 25 years of development experience. In Pakistan, he helped import high-tech dairy machinery to increase milk yields, and set up scholarships for youth from the tribal areas to study a gemology.
Friends of Weinstein said their kidnapping left them “puzzled.” The veteran aid worker had reportedly gone to great lengths to understand and respect the local culture and learned to speak some Urdu.
“He brings people together. When there’s no compromise between people in a meeting, he brings people to one point,” Ehtesham Ullah Khan, a gemologist who worked with Weinstein, told the Monitor last year. “He wants things to be done practically. He’s not like a paper man who likes reports and keeps [himself buried] in the files.”
There is also some concern over Weinstein’s health in captivity. He suffered from several ailments, reports Agence France-Presse. Prior to his abduction he’d changed his diet and took several medications to deal with his health problems. In his hostage video, he reported that that he had all of the medicine he needed.
Weinstein appears clean and in good health during the three-minute video. He wears traditional Pakistani clothing and sits behind a table with books and food. Throughout the video, he is seen periodically taking bites of food, reports Khaama Press.
Though Weinstein is believed to be held somewhere in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, local police say they have made some progress in his case. In April, agents from the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) arrested two men who were said to be involved with the kidnapping, reports the Daily Bhaskar. One of the men, Hafiz Imran, is said by police to have led the abduction operation in Lahore and the other, Saifur Rehman, is accused of sheltering those involved.
Even before Weinstein’s abduction, Pakistan was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. The most recent report on aid worker safety by Humanitarian Outcomes found that Pakistan had the fourth highest rate of security incidents targeting aid workers, following, in order, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Somalia. Local aid workers are most often the victim of these attacks, but on a per capita basis international aid workers face a greater risk of attack.
Late last month British aid worker Khalil Dale was found beheaded in Pakistan about four months after he was abducted. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the British national, originally of Yemeni origins, who was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan, reports the Dawn. His abductors say the killed him with ICRC failed to pay his ransom.