FBI helped family of American hostage pay ransom to Al Qaeda, report says

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The FBI reportedly helped the family of kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinsten deliver a 2012 ransom payment to Al Qaeda in what was ultimately an unsuccessful bid to secure the release of the U.S. citizen later killed in a U.S. drone strike.

The Wall Street Journal, citing senior U.S. officials, reported Wednesday that the FBI vetted a Pakistani middleman whom the family used to transport the $250,000 ransom, and provided additional intelligence in order to facilitate the exchange.

Officials told the Journal that FBI agents weren’t directly involved in either authorizing or approving the ransom, meaning they didn’t technically violate U.S. policy of not paying ransoms for hostages. Instead, the agency only helped once they concluded family members had decided to go ahead with the transaction, officials involved in the case said.

However, what appeared to be other unidentified officials told the Journal that the FBI’s actions encouraged the family to go ahead with the ransom, particularly when the agency said it was probably the best chance to win his release – reportedly describing it as the least bad of the unattractive options available.

Weinstein, a 73-year-old relief worker, was accidentally killed along with an Italian aid worker in the January drone strike operation, having been originally taken hostage by Al Qaeda in August 2011. He was snatched by terrorist gunmen at his Lahore, Pakistan, home while working as an economic development adviser for USAID, following a stint in the Peace Corps.

The U.S. did not recover the bodies of the two hostages, but were certain of their deaths. President Obama subsequently apologized for Weinstein’s death and pledged to review drone procedures.

Weinstein’s family had praised the efforts of specific officials at the FBI, with Weinstein’s wife Elaine thanking them “for their relentless efforts to free my husband” after the announcement of his death on April 23.

When asked about the Journal’s report on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t comment on the story itself, but reiterated government policy of not making concessions to terrorists, saying that it would put U.S. citizens at greater risk, and would allow terrorist organizations to be better financed. However Earnest made a distinction between the United States and families of hostages, calling them “two different things.”

Both the White House and the State Department referred questions about the specifics of the Weinstein case to the FBI, which declined to comment.