Blair: Bin Laden behind attacks
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Three of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks on the United States have been positively identified as "known associates" of Osama bin Laden, the British prime minister has said.
In a statement on Thursday to an emergency session of the UK Parliament, Tony Blair told MPs that of those three, one had played a key role in the East African embassy attacks and last year's attack on the USS Cole.
He said Saudi-born dissident bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organisation planned and carried out the attacks and were able to do so because of their close relationship with the Taliban regime.
Blair said: "We have absolutely no doubt that bin Laden and his network were responsible for the attacks on September 11.
"The attacks on September 11 bear all the hallmarks of a Bin Laden operation: meticulous long-term planning, a desire to inflict mass casualties, a total disregard for civilian lives, including Muslims, multiple simultaneous attacks, and the use of suicide attackers."
Of the expected military strike against terror, Blair said: "We are now approaching the difficult time when action is taken. It will be difficult, there are no easy options," he said.
"We will not act for revenge. We will act because for the protection of our people and our way of life, including confidence in our economy, we need to eliminate the threat bin Laden and his terrorism represent."
He added: "If we take the right military action, if we combine it with the right humanitarian assistance and we build the right political and diplomatic coalition, then that is not just the best chance of succeeding, but the best chance of winning the greatest degree possible of support right across the world for what we have done."
Opposition Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said he had been convinced by the evidence that bin Laden was behind the atrocity and that any military action against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban would be a "just war."
He said: "We must stand ready to fight for our democracy and for civilised values everywhere. Our prayers and support will at this time go out to our armed forces and to their families for what they may be called upon to do in whatever may follow."
Blair's statement was made before he left on a brief tour to shore up the international coalition against terror.
His visit to Russia, where he will meet President Vladimir Putin, and possibly Pakistan coincides with a visit to the Middle East by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reassure key allies in the region ahead of expected military action against Afghanistan.
As Blair prepared to leave Britain, his two immediate predecessors commented on recent events.
John Major, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997, told CNN that although the September 11 attacks were aimed specifically at the United States, "terrorism isn't."
He said: "You see a great deal of terrorism. Some Middles Eastern states as a whole are threatened by terrorism, we've seen a dramatic amount of terrorism in Europe ... and of course in Latin America and elsewhere.
"The tentacles of the terrorist groups, albeit different groups, spread everywhere. It's taken this dramatic event in New York and Washington, I think, to stir the conscience of the world."
Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who was PM from 1979 to 1990 and led Britain during the Falklands War, attacked British Muslims for not being vocal enough in their condemnation of the U.S. attacks.
"The people who brought down those (World Trade Center) towers were Muslims, and Muslims must stand up and say that that is not the way of Islam," she told The Times newspaper on Thursday.
Blair and Putin are expected to discuss the anti-terror coalition as well as broader issues of Russia's relationship with the West.
Putin, in Brussels, went further than he previously has gone in expressing Russia's willingness to re-think its opposition to the expansion of NATO.
Russia has emerged as a key player in the crisis, with Putin expressing strong support for U.S.-led military strikes against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network and their Afghanistan hosts.
The Russian leader is also seen as an influential figure in the former Soviet states bordering Afghanistan, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which could provide a launch pad for military action.
Following a summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Putin spoke of the need for "closer ties" between Russia and the alliance in the wake of events in America as part of a new security structure evolving across Europe.
Sources in the Gulf said Blair would also visit Oman, where about 20,000 British troops are holding long-planned military manoeuvres.
UK unveils anti-terror curbs
October 3, 2001
Rumsfeld seeking to bolster anti-terrorism coalition
October 3, 2001
Putin urges global terrorism fight
October 3, 2001
U.S. National Security Council
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