US Working 'Behind the Scenes' for Al Qaeda Hostage Release, State Says

Exclusive: Warren Weinstein's family says gov won't say what they're doing.

December 30, 2013, 8:29 AM

Dec. 30, 2013 — -- The U.S. government is working "behind the scenes" to secure the release of American al Qaeda hostage Warren Weinstein, the State Department said in response to comments made by Weinstein's family in an exclusive interview today on "Good Morning America."

Elaine Weinstein, the 72-year-old's wife, had told "GMA" that al Qaeda's demands for her husband's release were beyond her control but said that the U.S. government won't tell her much about what they're doing to help.

"We have called immediately on the terrorists holding him to release him," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters hours after the broadcast. "We also continue to actively work with the Pakistani authorities to try and secure his release… We're going to keep working with the Pakistanis, working behind the scenes and then the FBI, of course, is involved as well… to try to secure his release. And we're certainly committed to doing that, as we all are with all American citizens who are being held overseas."

Weinstein was working as a consultant in Lahore, Pakistan, helping with community projects, when gunmen stormed into his apartment and took him captive more than two years ago. In December 2011, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin Laden, announced his terror organization was holding Weinstein.

Harf said Weinstein's situation is "heartbreaking and terrible," using the same word, "heartbreaking," that Elaine Weinstein used to describe a new video of her husband, released late last week, in which Weinstein appeals to President Obama for help.

"I wanted to die right there on the spot," Elaine Weinstein told "Good Morning America." "Because he has no idea how hard we've tried to get him back... and it's just heartbreaking because he's asking for help and I can't give him any."

"I'd like to think that somebody can rescue him," she said.

In the video, released by Al Qaeda's media wing, Weinstein is seen wearing a grey jump suit slouching in a chair, with a grey wall behind him. He asks Obama to negotiate directly for his release.

"Mr. Obama, you're a family man," Weinstein says. "You understand the deep mental anxiety and anguish that I have been experiencing for these past more than two years. And therefore I'm appealing to you on a humanitarian basis, if nothing else, and asking that you take the necessary actions to expedite my release and my return to my family and to my country."

Elaine Weinstein said she became more worried after seeing the video, saying "he didn't look very good."

"I was worried about his health. Silly thing to think about, but he lost a tooth and that was very significant to me," she said. "It sort of meant maybe he's not getting the proper things to eat. And [he] just looked more tired, more pale, and in my eyes more discouraged than he looked in the other videos."

The video is the first proof of life video of Weinstein in more than a year when al Qaeda released a similar video. In that video, Weinstein suggested he would be killed unless the U.S. government met his captors' demands, which included releasing all prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. They also demanded an end to all U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

"Who am I to do that?" Elaine said. "The things that they say are things that a normal person can't do. The requests they have are out of our realm."

Jennifer Lynn Coakley, Weinstein's daughter who also spoke with "Good Morning America," said the "hardest thing" for her is trying to explain her fathers' situation to his grandchildren.

"Our son's too young to really tell him what's going on," Coakley said, tearing up. "And our daughter, we finally had to tell her, and that was I think one of the hardest things ever because that little brain of hers, a 7-year-ol to ask the questions she had to ask... 'When is he going to come play,' 'How come he's missing everything,'... How do you answer that for a kid?"

Alisa Weinstein, another of Warren's daughters, said that if her father could somehow see her in a television video the same way she's seen him in al Qaeda's, she would tell him "how much [she] misses him."

"I would just tell him that I love him and that I think about him every day," she said.

"And when he comes home, we're going to treat him like royalty and take such good care of him because he always takes good care of us, and now it's his turn to be taken care of," Elaine said.

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