WASHINGTON: Al-Qaeda is holding hostage a US aid worker kidnapped in August in Pakistan, the extremist group's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a Thursday statement seen by US website monitors.
Zawahiri said that on August 13 Al-Qaeda abducted elderly USAID contractor Warren Weinstein, who was "neck-deep in American aid to Pakistan," and that the White House could secure his release if it halts air strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and releases the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and relatives of Osama bin Laden.
"Just as the Americans detain all whom they suspect of links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, even remotely, we detained this man who has been neck-deep in American aid to Pakistan since the 1970s," the SITE Intelligence Group quoted Zawahiri as saying in a 31-minute video sent to jihadist forums.
Zawahiri, who took over at the top of the extremist network this year after bin Laden was killed, also confirmed that his number two, Atiyah abd al-Rahman, was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan's northwest tribal Waziristan in August.
"The retaliation, with permission from Allah, will be taken against those crusader Westerners who killed him and his two sons, and killed hundreds of thousands of our brothers, sons, women, and sheikhs, and occupied our countries (and) looted our wealth," he said.
US officials announced Rahman's death in late August but did not provide details.
A claim of a hostage-taking by Al-Qaeda's core organizational structure is seen as exceedingly rare; such claims by offshoots like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are far more common.
Among the list of eight demands in exchange for Weinstein, Al-Qaeda called for the release of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdul Rahman, Ramzi Yousef and Sayyid Nosair, who are tied to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Also on the list: Abu Musab al-Suri, one of Al-Qaeda's senior theorists and operatives.
SITE said Zawahiri directly addressed the hostage's family, telling them that US President Barack Obama had the power to get Weinstein freed but that he was "dodging" his responsibility to push for the release.
Obama "lied, he lies, and he will lie," Zawahiri was quoted as saying.
"He might say to you: 'I sought to release your relative, but Al-Qaeda was stubborn.' Do not believe him. He might say to you: 'I tried to contact them and they did not answer.' Do not believe him."
Gunmen snatched 70-year-old Weinstein, country director for US-based consultancy J.E. Austin Associates, which does contracting work with the US Agency for International Development, from his home in the eastern city of Lahore.
Zawahiri's message appears to be the first significant lead in the Weinstein case in weeks, as the trail had gone cold for Pakistani police.
Weinstein suffers from asthma, heart problems and high-blood pressure, and fears have been growing for his health if still being held captive in Pakistan, which is deeply troubled by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked violence. (AFP)