Al-Qaeda on Thursday published photos of slain US hostage Warren Weinstein praying, asserting online that the Jewish aid worker had converted to Islam in captivity before his death in April.
Weinstein is seen in two photos posted on Twitter in a prayer pose. In a third photo, his body appears to be wrapped in a traditional white shroud reserved for Muslim burial. The al-Qaeda spokesman who posted the images claimed that the hostage, who was killed in a US drone strike in April, had become a “a hard-working student of Islam.”
US officials told The New York Times the photos could not be immediately authenticated, and said the militants were using the images for propaganda purposes.
“After Warren Weinstein converted to Islam, those mujahedeen who imprisoned him became his protectors and started calling him uncle out of respect,” a statement released by the al-Qaeda branch said, according to The Times.
“Uncle Ishaq converted to Islam at the beginning of 2013 and dedicated himself to the pursuit of knowledge,” it said. “Despite his old age, Uncle Ishaq proved himself to be a hard-working student of Islam. The mujahedeen present in the center regarded him as a beloved elder and always came forward to serve him. Uncle never missed his prayers and fasting.”
The group maintained that Weinstein “wished to be exchanged in a prisoner swap for Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui,” who is jailed in the US for attempted murder.
Weinstein’s daughter Alisa told The Times she was aware of the photos.
Foreign nationals held in captivity in the Middle East — including James Foley and Peter Kassig who were beheaded by the Islamic State — are often reported to have converted to Islam under duress.
Weinstein, 73, of Rockville, Maryland, was kidnapped in August 2011 outside Pakistan while he was working for J.E. Austin Associates, a private company that advises Pakistani businesses.
He was captured as he neared the end of a contract assignment with the US Agency for International Development, and was killed, along with captive Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, during an American drone strike against an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
US officials said the compound was targeted because intelligence showed it was frequented by al-Qaeda leaders. That same intelligence offered no indication the hostages were there, the officials said.
In his remarks from the White House, President Barack Obama on April 23 expressed regret for the deaths of the two men and offered his “grief and condolences” to their families.
“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. “And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al-Qaeda.”
In late August 2014, al-Qaeda urged the family of Weinstein to pressure the government to negotiate his release or risk his “dying a lonely death.
“If you want Warren Weinstein to be released, do whatever you can to (pressure) your government,” the terror group said in a statement posted on Islamist websites.
“Your continued silence on the inaction of your government will only lead to your prisoner dying a lonely death in prison after this deliberate and prolonged neglect on the part of your government.”