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Blair: UK terror attack inevitable

Blair predicted the public would back war if other means of disarming Saddam Hussein failed

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LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair says terror groups like al Qaeda will attempt to launch an attack on Britain.

"I believe it is inevitable that they will try in some form or other," Blair told a committee of MPs on Tuesday.

"I think we can see evidence from the recent arrests that the terrorist network is here as it is around the rest of Europe, around the rest of the world."

Speaking to the Commons Liaison Committee, Blair also predicted that the public would eventually back a war against Iraq if other means of disarming it failed.

Blair said: "It's also the case that we are not in conflict yet, so we haven't reached the circumstances where I say to the British people we are in conflict with Iraq.

"When and if that time came, people would find the reasons acceptable and satisfactory because there is no other route available to us."

He continued: "Whenever I'm asked about the linkage between al Qaeda and Iraq, the truth is there is information I have that directly links al Qaeda to September 11.

"There is some intelligence evidence about loose linkage between al Qaeda and various people in Iraq.

"But I think the justification for what we are doing in respect of Iraq has got to be made separately from any potential link with al Qaeda."

Blair appeared before the committee a day after police in London raided a mosque in Britain's biggest anti-terror operation since September 11.

Seven men were arrested and a stun gun and tear gas was found during the raid, which was part of a wider probe into the discovery of the lethal poison ricin at a flat in the capital. (Full story)

Blair told the committee that he believed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein retained a chemical and biological weapons capability and was trying to rebuild his nuclear weapons programme, contrary to his declaration of last year.

While he said North Korea is a "real problem," Blair disputed critics who said its openly active nuclear programme should garner more attention than Iraq.

"I don't think the focus should be totally on Iraq," he said. "That's why the Security Council will shortly have a discussion about North Korea."

"But if we don't deal with (Iraq) now and take a stand on it now, is North Korea going to believe us? Are any of these other countries trying to obtain these weapons going to believe us if we face this challenge and duck it?"

"When we talk about Saddam, let's reflect on his regime," he continued. "Whenever he has had opportunity, he has been at war. He has threatened other neighbours and used weapons of mass destruction."

While the prime minister said he believed Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear programme, he said he was sure of its chemical and biological weapons.

"What we believe, and I think the recent finds by the inspectors would bear this out, is that they are being dispersed into different parts of the country."

He said the will of the United Nations had to be respected: "We have gone down the U.N. route ... let's stick with it and get the job done, but the U.N. has got to be the way of dealing with this issue, not a way of avoiding it."

Meanwhile, results of a survey released on Tuesday showed the British public are becoming less enthusiastic about the idea of a war with Iraq.

Almost two-thirds disapproved of the way Blair has handled the crisis, the Mori Social Research Institute found.

More than three-quarters of Britons (77 percent) would oppose military action in Iraq if it did not have UN backing -- up from 70 percent in September last year -- the poll found.

And the proportion who would support Britain joining military action, even if it was approved by the UN, fell 10 percent in the same period, from 71 percent support in September, to 61 percent now.

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