Sept. 11 alters Europe's approach on terrorism

Sunday, August 18, 2002

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Despite a long history of homegrown threats from the Irish Republican Army to Italy's Red Brigades, Europeans never had a common approach to fighting terrorism.

Then came Sept. 11.

As hundreds of thousands of Berliners, Parisians and Londoners poured into the streets to show solidarity with an America under attack, European leaders worked together, and in coordination with the United States, to swiftly craft a military, judicial and financial crackdown on terrorism.

In the process, Europe's views on terrorism and how to respond to the threat were radically altered to resemble those of Washington.

"What you see in Europe is a reconceptualization of the whole thinking process behind security," said Joanna Apap, research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "There is more and more reason for collaboration, with each other and the United States and Canada as well."

Significant differences persist, however, especially over Europe's reluctance to support military action against Iraq, and that could have an impact on relations as the emotional shock of Sept. 11 wanes.

"A deep gulf between Europe and America is in danger of opening up," the Paris newspaper Le Monde warned recently.

But another French newspaper, L'Express, believes the views of U.S. allies will carry more weight with a post-Sept. 11 America. "It is because we are friends of the United States that we must prevent it from making what may turn out to be a colossal mistake," it said.

There also are divisions over such issues as the death penalty and the amount spent on defense.

"There are different rules on the two sides of the Atlantic that hence could lead to strains, although it's not a real friction for the moment," Apap said.

Cooperation was demonstrated most dramatically one day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when NATO activated its never-before-invoked Article 5, which declares an attack on one to be an attack on all.

European combat forces, aircraft and ships were committed to support the U.S. strike on Afghanistan. As the war there began, European air crews flew nonstop missions aboard NATO radar planes keeping watch over the United States.

"The biggest change is that terrorism has become the consuming passion and consuming preoccupation in the NATO alliance," said Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to the Atlantic alliance.

Outside the military realm, the 15 European Union nations adopted their first, joint anti-terrorism plan at an emergency summit convened just 10 days after the attacks.

Within three months, they had a common legal definition of terrorism, a list of suspects closely in line with Washington's and more than $100 million in assets frozen.

They also adopted a common arrest warrant to prevent suspected terrorists from evading arrest by crossing the EU's largely unchecked internal borders.

The attacks on Sept. 11 galvanized the union, diplomats said, noting that in the past it would have taken years to reach agreement on such sweeping changes.

Europe's strict data protection laws also were waived to allow complete sharing of information between Europol and U.S. investigative agencies.

"All that's linked to Sept. 11 is no problem," said Europol's deputy director, Willy Bruggeman.

Since the attacks, al-Qaida suspects have been rounded up in Germany, Spain, Britain, Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands -- some with suspected links to the Sept. 11 hijackers and others who were allegedly plotting to strike in Europe.

Whether they will be extradited to the United States to face trial, however, is unresolved. The EU refuses to send any prisoner to a country where he or she could face the death penalty.

A U.S.-EU working group held its first meeting in July seeking to resolve the problem. It also will look for guidelines to allow protected personal data to be exchanged among American and European law enforcement agencies on a general basis, rather than under emergency exemption.

"In terms of arrests of suspected terrorists, of new laws passed by the European Union to deal with financial restrictions on terrorist groups, judicial reform, extradition, I think the Europeans have been quite vigorous," said Burns, who became the American envoy to NATO 10 days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. targets left off Europe's terrorist list in December, including the PKK Kurdish rebels in Turkey, the Shining Path group in Peru and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, were included on an expanded list in June.

The June update also added five Palestinian groups, including the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a U.S.-based charity that has been accused of channeling money to Hamas, which has carried out dozens of deadly attacks in Israel.

Still, the EU differentiates between the political and military wings of Hamas. And the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which targets Israel from Lebanon, is considered a terrorist organization by Washington but not by the EU.

Because of their longer struggle against terrorism at home, Europeans say they have learned a military solution alone is not enough to defeat it. They say policies must address the underlying situations that prod people to turn to terrorism.

On the military side, Washington wants NATO members to acquire their own special forces, air-to-air refueling capability, precision-guided munitions, unmanned vehicles and secure communications so they can deploy high-tech forces quickly to distant battlefields.

"These are the core military requirements that are absolutely essential to fight the war on terrorism," Burns said.

Europeans concede the need to beef up their forces and Britain and France recently announced major increases in their defense budgets.

Whatever happens, Burns insists the trans-Atlantic relationship is secure.

"One country can't resolve the global terrorist threat on its own," he said. "We certainly need friends and allies ... to dry up support for the terrorist groups, take the terrorists off the streets and relieve the threat."

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