American hostage devoted his life to helping the world’s poorest people

American hostage devoted his life to helping the world’s poorest people

2013 video message from Warren Weinstein(1:31)
This video showing Warren Weinstein, a U.S. contractor held by al-Qaeda militants, was released in 2013. The full 13-minute video was sent anonymously by e-mail to several journalists who have reported from Afghanistan. (As-Sahab/AFP)
April 23 at 1:25 AM
Warren Weinstein, the American hostage inadvertently killed by a U.S. drone strike earlier this year, had a lifelong love of the world’s dangerous places and made a career helping the people who lived in them.Weinstein, a grandfather of two who made his home in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, was promoting farm and dairy improvements in Pakistan as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in 2011. The White House said Thursday that Weinstein and an Italian hostage were killed in January during a strike on an al-Qaeda compound along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Weinstein’s wife, Elaine, and two daughters, who had pleaded for the 73-year-old’s release, said in a statement that “there are no words to do justice to the disappointment and heartbreak we are going through.”

“Warren spent his entire life working to benefit people across the globe and loved the work that he did to make people’s lives better. In Pakistan, where he was working before he was abducted, he loved and respected the Pakistani people and their culture. He learned to speak Urdu and did everything he could to show his utmost and profound respect for the region.”

A U.S. government contractor kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan in 2011 called on the Obama administration to negotiate with his captors and says he feels “totally abandoned and forgotten.”

There was no answer Thursday at the front door of a split-level house in Rockville that is listed as the Weinsteins’ residence. In the front lawn of the home, yellow ribbons were tied around a tree, which had pink, yellow, red and white flowers around its base.

The tribute appears to be mature and well-kept. After keeping silent for the first 2 1/2 years of Weinstein’s captivity, his family launched a public campaign after al-Qaeda released a video of him in late 2013. Weinstein, who hopscotched around projects in rural Pakistan despite a heart condition and severe asthma, was worryingly gaunt in the 2013 video, and his health noticibly deteriorated in subsequent ones.

He referenced his heart problems and asthma in a letter to the media dated Oct. 3, 2013, in which he appealed for help “to gain my release and rejoin my family. . . . Given my age and my health, I don’t have time on my side.”

Weinstein, described by friends as an upbeat family man, discovered a love for international work soon after graduate school at Columbia University in 1970.

“I spent much of the 1970s working on and teaching the protection of human rights,” he wrote in his handwritten appeal for help. He published papers on ethnic conflict and described himself as the co-founder of a journal called the Human Rights Internet.

As his children grew, his assignments around the world grew longer and included stints as a Peace Corps manager in Togo and the Ivory Coast in Africa and with the International Finance Corp. of the World Bank Group.

He kept in near-daily touch with Elaine Weinstein, his wife of more than 45 years, calling most nights by Skype. In the days before the Internet, he developed a reputation as a master postcard writer, showering his family with rich, loving mini-portraits of his far-flung postings.

There was no answer late Thursday morning at the Clarksburg home of Jennifer Coakley, 43, one of Weinstein’s two daughters. A lone yellow ribbon was tied to a front porch pillar.

The family in its statement called for an investigation into the circumstances of the raid. “But those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility,” the statement said. “I can assure you that he would still be alive and well if they had allowed him to return home after his time abroad working to help the people of Pakistan.”

Dan Morse contributed to this report.

Steve Hendrix came to The Post more than ten years ago from the world of magazine freelancing and has written for just about every page of the paper: Travel, Style, the Magazine, Book World, Foreign, National and, most recently, the Metro section’s Enterprise Team.
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