ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Warren Weinstein, a 70-year-old American aid expert kidnapped in Pakistan last summer, has appeared in a video asking President Obama to save his life by meeting his al-Qaeda captors’ demands to free convicted terrorists imprisoned in the United States.
“My life is in your hands, Mr. President. If you accept the demands, I live; if you don’t accept the demands, then I die,” Weinstein says evenly in the video, which al-Qaeda posted to jihadist forums on Sunday.
The White House on Monday ruled out negotiating with al-Qaeda, but spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S condemned the kidnapping and called for Weinstein’s release.
The video provided the first public evidence since his August kidnapping in the eastern city of Lahore that Weinstein was alive, although there is no indication when or where the video was made.
Pakistani security officials have speculated that he is being held in the North Warizistan tribal region, a center of extremist activity.
In December, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri issued demands in exchange for Weinstein’s freedom that included the release of al-Qaeda prisoners around the world – among them the so-called “blind sheik,” Omar Abdul Rahman, imprisoned in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Weinstein, whose wife Elaine lives in Rockville, Md., also appealed to Obama as a father of two daughters. If the president meets al-Qaeda’s terms, Weinstein said, “then I will live and hopefully rejoin my family and also enjoy my children, my two daughters, like you enjoy your two daughters.”
Weinstein worked mainly on economic development projects in Pakistan as a country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a Northern Virginia firm that holds contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Fluent in Urdu, he had spent many years in Pakistan. In the video, he wears a white shalwar kameez, the loose-fitting pants and tunic set considered the national dress.
Although Weinstein appeared to have lost a considerable amount of weight, he otherwise appeared healthy, a close family friend said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In the video Weinstein relays this message to his wife: “I’m fine, I’m well, I’m getting all my medications, I’m being taken care of.”
When Weinstein was kidnapped from his Lahore home, J.E. Austin put out a list of several medications he was taking, including those for heart disease, asthma and diabetes.
“I thought the chances were very slim that he was alive,” the family friend said, expressing relief to see Weinstein in the video. “He looked a little depressed but he was keeping a smiling face."
The friend said he found significance in the fact that the hostage casually snacked on fruit while addressing the president, as if the situation were not serious.
That mellowness is also known to be Weinstein’s way of dealing with stress, according to others.
Acquaintances have described him as good-humored, calm and likeable – and committed to helping Pakistanis create jobs and establish corporate ventures.
He 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.
In the video, Weinstein asks for quick action, saying, “There’ll be no benefit in delaying; it will just make things more difficult for me.”