US Terrorist Attacks: Developments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:09 am on 4th October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 10:09 am, 4th October 2001

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister:

"Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to you for recalling Parliament on a second occasion so that the House can consider developments since it last met.

"Then the scale of the 11th September tragedy was still unclear. Even today we do not yet know the precise numbers of those feared dead. But a bleak picture has emerged. There are up to 7,000 feared dead, including many British victims and others from 70 different countries. Many were Muslims. It cannot be said too often: this atrocity appalled decent Muslims everywhere and is wholly contrary to the true teaching of Islam. We condemn unreservedly racist attacks on British Muslims here, most recently at the Edinburgh mosque. These acts are without any justification whatever, and the full force of the law will be used against those who commit them.

"I pay tribute again to all those in America who have been involved in dealing with the human consequences of the attacks; the rescue services and medical workers who worked tirelessly and with devotion in the most harrowing conditions imaginable. I pay tribute to our own consular staff in New York and London and the family counsellors and Metropolitan Police officers who have supported relatives of the victims; and, above all, to the relatives themselves. Those I met in New York, still uncertain finally of the fate of their loved ones, bore their grief with immense dignity which deserves the admiration of us all.

"Since 11th September intensive efforts have taken place here and elsewhere to investigate these attacks and determine who is responsible. Our findings have been shared and co-ordinated with those of our allies, and are clear. They are: first, it was Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda, the terrorist network which he heads, that planned and carried out the atrocities on 11th September; secondly, Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda were able to commit these atrocities because of their close alliance with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which allows them to operate with impunity in pursuing their terrorist activity.

"I will later today put in the Library of the House of Commons a document detailing the basis for our conclusions. The document covers the history of Osama bin Laden, his relations with the Taliban, what we know of the acts of terror he has committed, and some of what we know in respect of 11th September. I enter a major caveat. Much of the evidence we have is intelligence and highly sensitive. It is not possible without compromising people or security to release precise details and fresh information is daily coming in. But I hope the House will find it useful at least as an interim assessment.

"The Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats have seen the full basis for the document on Privy Council terms. For myself and all other government Ministers who have studied the full information, we have absolutely no doubt that bin Laden and his network are responsible for the attacks on 11th September. That was also the unanimous view of the NATO members who were taken through the full facts on 2nd October. Much more of the evidence in respect of earlier atrocities can be released in greater detail since it is already subject to court proceedings, and this in itself is powerful. Indeed, there is nothing hidden about bin Laden's agenda. He openly espouses the language of terror, has described terrorising Americans as "a religious and logical obligation" and in February 1998 signed a fatwa stating that,

"the killing of Americans and their civilian and military allies is a religious duty".

"As our document shows, he has been responsible for a number of terrorist outrages over the past decade: the attack in 1993 on United States military personnel serving in Somalia where 18 United States military personnel were killed; the bombings in 1998 of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania where 224 people were killed and over 4,500 injured; attempted bombings in Jordan and Los Angeles at the turn of the millennium which were thankfully thwarted and the attack on the USS "Cole" nearly a year ago which left 17 crew members killed and 40 injured.

"The attacks on 11th September 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. I can now confirm that of the 19 hijackers identified from the passenger lists of the four planes hijacked on 11th September, at least three have already been positively identified as known associates of bin Laden with a track record in his camps and organisation. The others are being investigated still. Of the three, one has also been identified as playing key roles in both the east African embassy attacks and the USS "Cole" attack.

"Since the attacks we have obtained the following intelligence. Shortly before 11th September bin Laden told associates that he had a major operation against America under preparation. A range of people were warned to return to Afghanistan because of action on or about 11th September and, most importantly, one of bin Laden's closest lieutenants has said clearly that he helped with the planning of the 11th September attacks and has admitted the involvement of the Al'Qaeda organisation. There is other intelligence we cannot disclose of an even more direct nature indicating guilt.

"The closeness of bin Laden's relationship with the Taliban is also plain. He provides the Taliban with troops, arms and money to fight the Northern Alliance. He is closely involved with the Taliban's military training, planning and operations. He has representatives in the Taliban's military command structure. Forces under the control of bin Laden have fought alongside the Taliban in the civil war in Afghanistan.

"The Taliban regime for its part has provided bin Laden with a safe haven within which to operate and allowed him to establish terrorist training camps. They jointly exploit the Afghan drugs trade. In return for active Al'Qaeda support the Taliban allows Al'Qaeda to operate freely, including planning, training and preparing for terrorist activity. In addition it provides security for stockpiles of drugs.

"In the face of this evidence our immediate objectives are clear. We must bring bin Laden and other Al'Qaeda leaders to justice and eliminate the terrorist threat they pose. We must ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism. If the Taliban regime will not comply with that objective, we must bring about change in that regime to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism are broken.

"Since the House last met we have been working ceaselessly on the diplomatic, humanitarian and military fronts. I can confirm that we have had initial discussions with the United States about a range of military capabilities with which Britain can help and have already responded positively to this. We shall consider carefully any further requests and keep the House informed as appropriate about such requests. For obvious reasons I cannot disclose the exact nature of our discussions but I am fully satisfied that they are consistent with our shared objectives.

"I believe the humanitarian coalition to help the people of Afghanistan to be as vital as any military action itself. Afghanistan was in the grip of a humanitarian crisis even before the events of 11th September. Four years of drought on top of over two decades of conflict have forced millions of people to leave the country and have left millions more dependent on international humanitarian aid. Last week the United Nations launched an appeal for 584 million dollars to meet the needs of vulnerable people in and around Afghanistan. The appeal covers the next six months.

"The international community has already pledged sufficient funds to meet the most immediate needs. The British Government have contributed £25 million, nearly all of which has already been allocated to United Nations and other agencies. We have also made available a further £11 million for support for the poorest communities in Pakistan, especially those most directly affected by the influx of refugees. I know that President Bush will shortly announce details of a major United States programme of aid.

"I have been in detailed consultation with the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, and other leaders. Kofi Annan has now appointed Lakhdar Brahimi to be his high level co-ordinator for the humanitarian effort in and around Afghanistan. We shall give Mr Brahimi all the support we can to help ensure that the United Nations and the whole of the international community come together to meet the humanitarian challenge.

"Action is already in hand to cope with additional outflows of refugees. UNHCR is working with the governments of the region to identify sites for additional refugee camps. The first UNHCR flight of relief supplies, including tents donated by the British Government, arrived in Iran yesterday. A second flight will depart at the end of this week carrying more tents, plastic sheeting and tarpaulins so that we can provide essential shelter for refugees. We are also stepping up the effort to get food into Afghanistan before the winter snows begin. A UNICEF convoy carrying blankets and other supplies left Peshawar for Kabul on Tuesday. A World Food Programme convoy carrying over 200 tonnes of wheat arrived in Kabul on Monday. Further WFP convoys have left for Afghanistan from Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

"We will do what we can to minimise the suffering of the Afghan people as a result of the conflict; and we commit ourselves to work with them afterwards inside and outside Afghanistan to ensure a better, more peaceful future, free from the repression and dictatorship that is their present existence.

"On the diplomatic front, over the past three weeks the Foreign Secretary and I have been in intensive contact with foreign leaders from every part of the world. In addition, the Foreign Secretary has visited the Middle East and Iran. I have visited Berlin, Paris and Washington for consultations with Chancellor Shroder, President Chirac and President Bush respectively. Later today I will travel to Moscow to meet President Putin.

"What we have encountered is an unprecedented level of solidarity and commitment to work together against terrorism. This is a commitment that spans all continents, cultures and religions, reinforced by attacks like the one on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar which killed over 30 innocent people. We have already made good progress in taking forward an international agenda. Last week the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1373. This makes it mandatory for all states to prevent and suppress terrorist financing and requires the denial of safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts.

"The European Union too has taken firm action. Transport, interior, finance and foreign ministers have all met to concert an ambitious and effective European response: enhancing police co-operation; speeding up extradition; putting an end to the funding of terrorism; and strengthening air security.

"We are looking closely at our national legislation. In the next few weeks, the Home Secretary intends to introduce a package of legislation to supplement existing legal powers in a number of areas. It will be a carefully appraised set of measures; tough, but balanced and proportionate to the risk we face. It will cover the funding of terrorism. It will increase our ability to exclude and remove those whom we suspect of terrorism and who are seeking to abuse our asylum procedures. It will widen the law on incitement to include religious hatred. We will bring forward a Bill to modernise our extradition law.

"It will not be a knee-jerk reaction. But I emphasise that we do need to strengthen our laws so that, even if necessary in only a small number of cases, we have the means to protect our citizens' liberty and our national security.

"We have also ensured, in so far as it is possible, that every reasonable measure of internal security is being undertaken. We have in place a series of contingency plans governing all forms of terrorism. These plans are continually reviewed and tested regularly, at all levels. In addition, we continue to monitor carefully developments in the British and international economy. Certain sectors here and around the world inevitably have been seriously affected, though I repeat that the fundamentals of all the major economies, including our own, remain strong. The reduction of risk from terrorist mass action is important to economic confidence, as 11th September showed. So there is every incentive in this respect also to close down the bin Laden network.

"Three weeks on from the most appalling act of terrorism the world has ever witnessed, the coalition is strong. Military plans are robust. The humanitarian plans are falling into place. The evidence against bin Laden and his network is overwhelming. The Afghan people are not our enemy. They have our sympathy and they will have our support.

"Our enemy is Osama bin Laden and the Al'Qaeda network who were responsible for the events of 11th September. The Taliban regime must yield them up or also become our enemy. We shall 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. We act for justice. We act with world opinion behind us. And we have an absolute determination to see justice done and this evil of mass terrorism confronted and defeated".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.