Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claims that the two hostages who were killed in a U.S. drone strike in January, one American and one Italian, converted to Islam prior to their death, reports a jihadist activity monitor group.
The two hostages were identified as American aid worker Warren Weinstein, who had been held captive since 2011, and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, held in captivity since 2012. Both were held at a secretive Pakistani facility.
United Press International (UPI) described their death as “the first known instance of the U.S. accidentally killing hostages in a drone strike.”
It remains unclear why the hostages allegedly embraced Islam, notes Foreign Policy (FP), adding that Weinstein’s wife Elaine angrily denied al-Qaeda’s claim that her husband was a Muslim convert at the time of his death.
“We do not believe anything al Qaeda is saying about Warren’s activities in captivity,” Elaine Weinstein reportedly said in a statement. “As a captive, he was not free to make decisions on his own… Al Qaeda is a cowardly group, kidnapping old men who are helping others. They cynically photograph their captives while shirking responsibility for their safety.”
Lo Porto’s family said that AQIS’s claim amounted to nothing more than a “slur,” reports Italy’s Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA).
According to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online, Usama Mahmoud, a spokesman for AQIS, in a statement disseminated on Thursday, said the terrorists holding Weinstein in captivity addressed him as “uncle” after he adopted their religion.
“Weinstein was no longer considered a prisoner after embracing the religion,” revealed Mahmoud, according to FP. “Influenced by the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born al Qaeda-affiliated preacher killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, Weinstein wished to be swapped for Aafia Siddiqui, an al Qaeda militant imprisoned in the United States.”
Weinstein and Lo Porto changed their names to Ishaq and Muhammad, respectively, following their conversion, Mahmoud added.
“Thursday’s statement also included photographs of the two men, including two purportedly showing Weinstein at prayer,” notes FP. “AQIS also released a photograph of Weinstein shortly after his death. That photograph bears a Jan. 14 time stamp.”
FP notes that Western hostages taken captive by jihadists have been known to covert to Islam on occasions, after being held hostage for years, often tortured and kept in isolation.
They likely adopt the religion to ensure better treatment, adds FP, noting that perhaps some do it because of a genuine interest in Islam.
“Though their conversion to Islam can’t be confirmed, it would be in line with reports of other Western hostages adopting the religion of their captors. James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by the Islamic State, reportedly embraced the religion and studied it intensely during his captivity,” mentions the FP article.
“Foley reportedly adopted the name Abu Hamza. Peter Kassig, who took the name Abdul-Rahman, the former American soldier kidnapped by the Islamic State, also embraced the religion,” it adds. “John Cantlie, the British photojournalist being used as a propagandist for the Islamic State, has also reportedly converted. At least one hostage, Steven Sotloff, a practicing Jew, hid his religion from his captors.”