Slain Italian Hostage ‘Had No Time for Simplistic Western Policy Agendas’

“I do love the people, the culture and the food of this part of the world,” Lo Porto told a professor who taught him in London.


When the White House announced on Thursday that a botched U.S. drone strike had killed an American and an Italian held hostage by al Qaeda, it was the first direct information friends and family had received about Giovanni Lo Porto in more than three years.

Militants abducted Lo Porto, along with German aid worker Bernd Mühlenbeck, shortly after he arrived in Pakistan’s Punjab province in January 2012 to work for a German aid organization helping rebuild an area devastated by flooding. He apparently had been held by al Qaeda ever since.

The only additional information that hinted at the 39-year-old’s condition had come in a video released in late 2012, in which fellow hostage Mühlenbeck pleaded for release. Speaking apparently on behalf of both himself and Lo Porto, the German said their captors could kill them at any time. A German special forces operation rescued Mühlenbeck in October 2014 from Afghanistan, but he’d been separated from Lo Porto a year before and didn’t know the Italian’s location.

Mike Newman, a professor who taught Lo Porto at London Metropolitan University, said his student had fallen in love with Pakistan over two previous trips. Speaking to the Guardian in 2013, Newman recalled that Lo Porto was “so delighted to be back” in Pakistan after returning there in 2012. “I do love the people, the culture and the food of this part of the world,” the professor said Lo Porto told him.

Describing Lo Porto as a “warm, friendly, open-minded person,” Newman said he “enriched the discussions for all of us by drawing on his varied experience of working in complex situations in many parts of the world” and “certainly had no time for simplistic western policy agendas.”

Born in Palermo, Lo Porto had also participated in aid missions in the Central African Republic and Haiti.

A university classmate, Sarah Neal, said in 2013 that “if anyone could be friends with his captors, it would be Giovanni.”

A spokesperson at the Italian Embassy in Washington directed questions to Italy’s Foreign Ministry. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni issued a statement on Thursday calling Lo Porto a “generous and highly experienced volunteer.”

“During these 3 years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other organs of the state have made every effort to trace Giovanni Lo Porto and return him to his loved ones,” the statement reads. “The conclusion, sadly, is a different one, as a result of the tragic and fatal error made by our American allies, an error recognised by President Obama.”

Lo Porto’s family members have asked the press to let them grieve in peace.

Photo via

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. Twitter: @jkdrennan

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