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    South Asia
     May 10, 2012


Al-Qaeda hostage begs Obama for help
By Amir Mir

ISLAMABAD - The refusal of the Barack Obama administration to negotiate with al-Qaeda for the release of a Jewish American who was abducted from Lahore in August 2010, may bring death to the 70-year old hostage. This was the case with another Jewish American, Daniel Pearl, a journalist, who was kidnapped from Karachi in 2002 and subsequently killed after the George W Bush administration's refusal to accept the demands of his abductors.

Warren Weinstein is the first private American citizen taken hostage by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Pakistan since Pearl's kidnapping and beheading. Ransom demands were e-mailed to US authorities four days after Pearl's abduction, along with pictures of the 38-year old journalist in chains. The key demands included an immediate release of Taliban prisoners, specifically of Mullah Mohammad Zaeef, the former ambassador of the Taliban

 

regime to Pakistan, and the delivery of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan that the United States had withheld following the imposition of nuclear proliferation-related sanctions on Islamabad under the Pressler Amendment.

Weinstein, the country director for JE Austin Associates, a US-based consultancy that works with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was abducted from his Lahore residence in the Model Town area on August 13, 2010, by 11 armed men.

Fifteen months later (on December 1, 2011) al-Qaeda leader Dr Ayman Zawahiri claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying that the "American Jew" would be freed if the United States stopped drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia and freed terrorist suspect prisoners at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Zawahiri also called on the US in a 31-minute video to release everyone who had been detained on charges of belonging to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, even if they had been handed over to another country, including the so-called "blind sheik", Omar Abdul Rahman, imprisoned in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in the US.

There was no response from the Obama administration.

This May, to coincide with the anniversary of the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US special forces, a video was released on the Internet of Weinstein making an appeal to Obama to negotiate for his release.

The videotape was produced by al-Qaeda's propaganda wing and titled "A Message from the Prisoner Warren Weinstein to His President". Weinstein directly addresses Obama, and begs for the president to accept al-Qaeda's terms for his release. "And I'd like to talk to President Obama and ask him - beg him - that he accept and respond to the demands of the mujahideen, for my life is in your hands, Mr President," Weinstein said, according to a transcript of his statement.

"If you accept their demands, I live; if you don't accept their demands, then I die. It's important that you accept the demands and act quickly and don't delay. They'll be no benefit in delaying as it will just make things more difficult for me," said Weinstein, who was wearing traditional Pakistani clothes. He also appealed to Obama as a father, and then claimed that the president was "not paying any attention or care about my problem or my needs".
The video provided the first public evidence since his kidnapping that Weinstein was alive. He is most likely being held in the largely lawless Waziristan tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan, a center of extremist activity.

Weinstein worked with top government officials to spur industry sectors including dairy products; granite and marble for construction; and furniture making. A Fulbright scholar, Weinstein holds a doctorate in international law and economics, the Washington Post reported.

The Weinstein video was released a week after the bullet-riddled body of a British employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who was kidnapped four months earlier from Quetta, was found dumped near Airport Road in Quetta on April 29, 2012. Dr Khalil Ahmed Dale, a British national, was kidnapped on January 5, 2012, by Taliban militants and shot dead following the failure of the British authorities to fulfill their demands.

However, the White House has outright refused to negotiate for Weinstein's release. "The president is aware of it. I do not believe he's seen it, or I do not know that he's seen it. We remain greatly concerned for Weinstein's safety and his well-being," White House press secretary Jay Carney said on May 7. "Our hearts go out to him and his family. We condemn his kidnapping in the strongest terms and call for his immediate release. The US government will continue making every effort to see Warren Weinstein released safety to his family, but we cannot and will not negotiate with al-Qaeda," Carney added.

The US State Department, too, refused to make concessions to terrorists. "As you know, we don't make concessions to terrorists. We obviously remain very, very concerned about the safety and well-being of Weinstein. We want to call - or we have called, and continue to call for his immediate release and we continue to cooperate closely with Pakistani authorities on the current investigation. We are obviously also in close contact with Weinstein's family, offering appropriate consular assistance as they requested. We think he's probably or most likely being held in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but we don't have any way to confirm that", State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on May 7.

Highly placed officials in the Pakistani security establishment believe the blunt refusal of the White House to negotiate with al-Qaeda for the release of Weinstein was not a wise move given the fact that, like Daniel Pearl, Weinstein is a Jewish American who is now dangerously close to being made another bloody example by the terrorists.

In a 2002 video titled "The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl", which was released by his kidnappers, Pearl was shown describing his identity: "My name is Daniel Pearl, I am a Jewish-American from Encino, California, US. On my father's side the family is Zionist. My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, and I am Jewish too. My family follows Judaism. We have made numerous family visits to Israel."

The second part of the video showed Pearl stating the demands of his captors. Pictures of dead Pakistanis and similar scenes were superimposed around the image of Pearl. Other images shown were those of Bush shaking hands with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. The message read: "We give you one more day if the United States America will not meet our demands, we will kill Daniel Pearl. Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan."

Photos of Pearl handcuffed with a gun at his head and holding up a newspaper were attached. As the kidnappers' demands were not accepted, Pearl was killed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Sheikh was arrested in March 2003 in Rawalpindi, 15 months after Pearl's murder, and is currently being tried in the United States.

Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist and the author of several books on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)





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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, May 8, 2012)

 
 



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