Warren Weinstein, pictured above, is a 70-year-old Jewish American and former USAID worker who was kidnapped from his bed late August in Pakistan. Now, a newly released audio message from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri claims responsibility for Weinstein’s disappearance and says the militant Islamist group is holding the man hostage. This supports a U.S. official’s claim that “it’s entirely possible that al Qaeda or one of its militant allies may be holding Mr. Weinstein.”
In the 30-minute long statement, which is reportedly circulating on jihadi-websites, al-Zawahiri states:
“I tell the captive soldiers of al Qaeda and the Taliban and our female prisoners held in the prisons of the crusaders and their collaborators, we have not forgotten you and in order to free you we have taken hostage the Jewish American Warren Weinstein.”
The jihadist group also warns Weinstein’s family not to trust President Obama’s assurances that everything is being done to ensure the American’s release, suggesting Obama would prefer that “[Weinstein] would be killed to get rid of his problem.” He adds that Obama has the power to either “kill” or “free” Weinstein based on his actions.
The al Qaeda leader also tells the family, “your government tortures our prisoners, but we have not tortured your prisoner.”
ABC shares the details of the kidnapping:
In August, Pakistani police arrested three men in connection with the kidnapping. Weinstein, a private U.S. citizen who has lived in Pakistan for seven years, was sleeping in his bed when assailants burst into his home to snatch him. The former USAID worker is currently employed by the private U.S.-based development firm J.E. Austin Associates.
All three suspects are from the same province in which Weinstein lived, an area far from the turbulent tribal regions near the Afghan border more usually associated with violent attacks. The men were arrested after investigators managed to track their cell phone numbers, the Lahore police chief said without elaborating.
Thus far, according to one U.S. official, al Qaeda has offered no proof of life, but goes on to issue their demands in exchange for Weinstein:
In exchange for Weinstein’s release, Zawahiri requests the lifting of the Israeli “siege” of the Gaza strip, the complete end of “bombings by America and its allies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza,” the release of all al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners and the closing down of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo bay, Cuba, in addition to the release of members of Osama bin Laden’s family.
“Obama has the power, capacity and authority to free [Weinstein],” says Zawahiri. “He could also leave him in captivity for years and, if he does something stupid, kill him.”
Meanwhile, some in Pakistan are speculating that Weinstein was not a development worker at all, but rather a U.S. intelligence officer.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah publicly announced his suspicions, telling local media that Weinstein was involved in “quite suspect” intelligence-gathering for the U.S. government and comparing him to Raymond Davis, the American CIA contractor who was jailed in Pakistan earlier this year for shooting two men on the streets of Lahore.
U.S. diplomats deny these claims, however.
Irrespective of Weinstein’s occupation, an American citizen’s life hangs in the balance, as he remains prisoner at the hands of radical Islamists.
Weinstein is reportedly the first private citizen to be kidnapped in Pakistan since al Qaeda militants abducted and beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. People of good will around the world hope beyond hope that the same fate will not befall Weinstein.
Below is CBS’ earlier report on Weinstein’s kidnapping: