A senior European Union counterterrorism official said several countries sought to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in its entirety, after their operatives murdered five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver in 2012, Benjamin Weinthal reported for The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Giles de Kerchove, the EU anti-terror chief, said in an interview with a Brussels-based publication that after the attack in Bulgaria, “there were divided views” among member states as to whether or not designate both Hezbollah’s military and political wing.
“Some member states put the whole organization and some member states think that Hezbollah is important for the political and social fabric of Lebanon and they want to keep a line open to keep talking to Hezbollah as a political actor in the Lebanese context,” de Kerchove explained.
He added: “We put the military branch of Hezbollah on the EU list of terrorist organizations because of the Burgas [attack]. That’s acknowledged, because we drew the consequence of several plots in Cyprus, and an attack in Bulgaria, to put the military branch of Hezbollah on the list.”
In March 2013, a court in Cyprus found a man guilty of participating in a plot to attack Israeli tourists in the country, part of a conspiracy similar to the deadly bombing in Bulgaria a year earlier.
The EU’s senior counterterrorism official also said that at the time “the ministers who had to decide whether to put the military branch of Hezbollah on the terrorist list or not, got a lot of quite convincing information.” De Kerchove added that “Without going into confidential details, the investigation showed clear links, I can tell you. There were smoking guns.”
This assessment was shared by Bulgaria’s government which said in the aftermath of the Burgas attack that it had “established that the two [accused] were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah” and “There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects.”
However, Bulgarian state prosecution eventually decided not to charge Hezbollah with involvement in the attack and instead indicted the two suspects as if they were regular criminals, who acted without connection to an organization. The word “Hezbollah” does not appear in the indictment.
Hezbollah has always rejected the distinction of a military and political wing. The group’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem said in October 2012 that Hezbollah does not “have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”