WASHINGTON – Progress has been made toward financially paralyzing the Islamic terrorist group Hamas (search), but the job cannot be finished without help from more nations, a top Treasury Department official said Wednesday.
David Aufhauser (search), Treasury's general counsel, testified at a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing about efforts to choke off all Hamas funding because the United States believes the group bankrolls terrorist activities. When asked whether the U.S.-led efforts are having a real-world effect, he said, "The answer is yes, but it is a qualified yes."
The United States has taken steps to sever Hamas, its officials and charities believed to be sending money to the group from the nation's financial system and has pushed other countries to take similar action.
Those actions "have dramatic impact only when we can convince the rest of the world to act with us," Aufhauser told the House panel. "It has been an uphill road with Hamas."
Of the 321 individuals and groups put on the United States' list of suspected terrorist financiers (search) since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, 16 are related to Hamas, he said. Those 16 designations have resulted in the freezing of $24.7 million worldwide in financial assets linked to Hamas, he said.
The United States has treated both the political wing of Hamas and the military wing of the group as one in the same, and has moved to block the entire group's financial assets. But other countries have viewed the two wings separately, he said.
"The rest of the world, particularly Europe -- until recently -- and countries in the Persian Gulf view the political charitable wing of Hamas differently from its so called military wing," Aufhauser said. "In our view this is pure sophistry. We have advocated forcefully throughout the world that this distorted view of Hamas should end."
On this front, Aufhauser praised the Sept. 12 action by the European Union (search) to add the entire Hamas organization to its list of suspected terrorist financiers, as opposed to only the previously designated military wing, which has carried out dozens of deadly attacks in Israel.
Aufhauser said that "a large portion" of Hamas fund-raising has come from Europe. He did not give a dollar figure. He believes the EU's action "will help change that dynamic," Aufhauser said.
However, Europe and other countries, especially in the Persian Gulf, need to be more aggressive, he said.
"Some sources estimate that as much as half of Hamas' income is derived from money raised in the Persian Gulf, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (search) -- notwithstanding a May 2002 decree by Crown Prince Abdullah that ceased official Saudi support for the group," Aufhauser said.