WASHINGTON – Lawmakers criticized Europeans for supporting charities linked to Hamas (search) and Hezbollah (search) on Tuesday, with one saying it was like doing business with the "political wing of the Nazi party" while rejecting the military wing.
The criticism was leveled at European Union (search) counterterrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries as he appeared with American officials at a Capitol Hill review of how well the United States and its allies are working together to fight terrorism.
William Pope, a State Department anti-terrorism coordinator, told two House International Relations subcommittees that the EU as a whole "has been reluctant to take steps to block the assets of charities linked to Hamas and Hezbollah, even though these groups repeatedly engage in deadly terrorist attacks, and the charitable activities help draw recruits."
The groups get "a considerable portion of their funding from Europe," Pope said in a written statement to the panel, saying Europe and the United States have "differing perspectives on the dividing line between legitimate political or charitable activity and support for terrorists groups."
Funds the groups allegedly raise for humanitarian purposes are easily diverted for terrorist acts, Pope said.
Rep. Robert I. Wexler, D-Fla., told de Vries it was hard for some Americans to understand the distinction between political and military wings of the organizations.
"Would you have thought it acceptable for a European citizen to do business with the political wing of the Nazi Party and divide that separate from the military wing?" asked Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.
"And if not, why is it OK for Europeans to provide aid and comfort to those who have so much blood on their hands by saying, 'Oh, these are just the politicians?'"
Pope also testified that the EU has been a solid partner in maintaining the global coalition against terrorism, adopting a plan for police and judicial cooperation as well as humanitarian assistance and other counterterror efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. EU members also have agreed to reinforce operational cooperation, improve the effectiveness of border information systems, and bolster technical assistance to third countries, he said.
European intelligence and security forces have successfully forestalled numerous mass casualty attacks since 9-11, including some on U.S. facilities in Europe, Pope said. However, he said, efforts to combat threats in Europe are sometimes complicated by local laws that bar certain actions against suspected terrorists, including those accused based on classified information.
Asked whether Europeans are no longer good allies partly because they opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq (search), de Vries said, "The European Union put its money where its mouth is" on helping rebuild Iraq. He noted it pledged $1.25 billion for reconstruction, de-mining, humanitarian help and other assistance.