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Terrorist attacks on the United States: The Defence Secretary's speech in the Commons 4 October 2001

Published Thursday 4th October 2001

(The authoritative Hansard version will be duly published at 
the Parliament website)

Mr Speaker,

The scale of the terror that faced the world on 11 September went beyond anything we had seen before. The exact numbers of those killed are still not known - and will not be known for many days more. But it is clear that around six thousand people lost their lives in these appalling attacks. 

We have seen suicide attacks before, but never causing death on this scale. As the Prime Minister has said, this was a turning point in history. The world now looks a very different place.

We now face new challenges - from the terrorists responsible for the attacks on the United States and from others using similar appalling methods. 

Two tasks lie ahead, therefore: 
* We must bring those responsible for the events of 11 September to account, along with all those who support, harbour, and protect them; 
* And we must deal as well with the wider threat of the evil of international terrorism. 

Our message to Usama bin Laden has been absolutely clear. We know that he is guilty. The information that the Prime Minister is placing in the library of the House makes this quite clear. We will bring him to account. 

And our message to the Taleban has also been clear. The world is watching them. Their chance to surrender the terrorists and end their support for terrorism is fast running out. That is our aim - in answer to the question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary - to remove the support for terrorism in Afghanistan - to show as well that such support will not be tolerated elsewhere.

The United States has shown great dignity and great restraint since 11 September. We commend their refusal to lash out in instant revenge. Whatever action is taken, in self-defence, must be proportionate and carefully targeted - compatible with legitimate self-defence in accordance with international law. We recognise that it must target the guilty and, wherever possible, avoid harming the innocent. We recognise that it may take time and risk lives. But we recognise, too, that the time for forceful military action against Usama bin Laden, his associates, and, if they do not act, those who support them, is coming.

A shadow of evil and death fell across New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on 11 September. It fell across the United States. It fell across the whole free world. But from out of this shadow, good must emerge.

We face a choice. To cower in the face of this threat. Or to destroy it. With our allies, we are determined to eliminate terrorism as a force in international affairs.

The United Kingdom will play a full and active role in working to achieve these objectives. To do otherwise would be to ignore our responsibilities as a close ally of the United States and as a member of the United Nations, the G8, NATO, and the European Union.

It is because we recognise these responsibilities that we are working to build a humanitarian coalition to deal with the growing crisis that is faced by Afghan refugees - to offer these innocent and helpless people - victims themselves - with whom we have no quarrel - the assistance they need. The United Kingdom was the first country to pledge money for refugees - now standing at 36 million - on top of the 35 million that we have given to Afghan refugees since 1997. The Department for International Development's first shipment of 400 tents for the UNHCR arrived in Iran yesterday. A further flight with more supplies is due to depart for Iran at the end of this week. There is, of course, more to do and we are looking urgently at what further help we and the rest of the world can give. 

On this, my Right Honourable Friend, the Prime Minister, has been in regular contact with President Bush. I have been in close contact with Donald Rumsfeld, the United States Defense Secretary. This close contact has been matched at all levels within the Ministry of Defence. We have consulted carefully on the appropriate response to September's attacks and have made it clear to our US allies that we will offer them every assistance in the action they take.

As the Prime Minister announced this morning, we have received an initial request from the United States for a range of military capabilities. We have already responded positively to this. We will consider any further requests as and when they are received.

We have also been in contact with our other allies. NATO Defence Ministers met in Brussels last week, to discuss how we can work together in our response to the threat of international terrorism. NATO has taken the step of invoking Article 5, for the first time in its history, recognising that the attack on the United States was an attack on us all. Other allies, therefore, also stand by to assist the United States. 

The discussions in Brussels included a meeting with the new Russian Defence Minister. The response to the attacks on the United States has been remarkable for the degree of unity shown by nations across the world. The Russian support for the United States has been invaluable. The Prime Minister's visit to Russia today is a sign of this developing closeness. I hope to build on this when I visit Russia for talks with their Defence Minister next week.

Mr Speaker. The United Kingdom's Armed Forces have continued to serve our country with very great distinction. They have consistently excelled in a number of difficult situations - in the Balkans, in East Timor, in Africa. Only last month, I visited Britain's contribution to Task Force Harvest in Macedonia. Their professionalism; their skill; their determination to play their part in restoring stability to that country were all that we have come to expect. I have no doubt that, if and when they are called on to play their part in the action against Usama bin Laden and his associates, the Taleban, and others who support terrorism, they will do so with the same distinction.

Many of our Service personnel have already deployed to Oman to take part in Exercise Saif Sareea with the Omani Armed Forces. Planning for this exercise began four years ago. It has been designed to test and prove the success of key elements of our Joint Rapid Reaction Forces. It also demonstrates the closeness of our friendship with Oman and will develop our wide-ranging defence relationship. 

The United Kingdom's contribution to this Exercise is immense. It is the largest overseas deployment by British forces since the Gulf conflict. Some 20,000 Service personnel are taking part. We have deployed the Illustrious Carrier Group, 3 Commando Brigade, five squadrons of Challenger 2 tanks, some 50 fast jet aircraft, and many other force elements. They are there to take part in the Exercise. But, obviously, in the light of the attacks on the United States and where we know they originated, it is a fortunate coincidence that our forces, by their presence, are able to contribute to the trap that we are closing around Usama bin Laden. We are prepared and ready to draw on those deployed forces, if required.

But the war on international terrorism will not be won by military force alone. It must be fought on other fronts too - through diplomacy, new legislation, and new economic measures. 

The enemy we face is sophisticated. It has close links with transnational organised crime, illegal arms trafficking, the movement of illicit drugs, and money laundering. It threatens us in many ways. Our response must be sophisticated too - and organised on a national, regional and international basis. 

We have already made our first moves.

We have acted to increase the security of the United Kingdom in the face of these threats.

As my Right Honourable Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, we have no evidence of any specific threat of terrorist action against the United Kingdom. It is one thing to describe a doomsday scenario in a Sunday paper; it is quite another to deploy a functioning, effective weapon of mass destruction. Of course, that does not mean that we should not be vigilant - as we all must be. 

When I addressed the House two weeks ago, I talked about the valuable work of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in pulling together contingency plans to deal with any incident that might occur. These plans involve a wide range of Government departments and agencies, as well as bodies and institutions in the private sector. Many of these plans were drawn up long before 11 September. Where necessary, they are being reviewed in the light of what happened. 

My Right Honourable Friend, the Foreign Secretary, has already spoken about what we are doing in the diplomatic sphere. As the House is aware, the Prime Minister is playing a leading role in drawing together a global coalition, united in its determination to rid the world of this terrorist threat.

My Right Honourable Friend, the Home Secretary, has indicated what we intend to do on the legislative front. 

The new Terrorism Act came into force in February and extended the proscription regime to include international organisations. We are determined that the United Kingdom will not become a place where terrorists and their supporters can take refuge. 

My Right Honourable Friend, the Home Secretary, has set in hand an urgent review of the case for new powers, policies, and other action that may be necessary in the light of what happened on 11 September. New legislation will be brought forward in this session of Parliament.

The existing legal powers to tackle terrorism have been updated very recently and are amongst the toughest in the world. But, even so, as a measure of our determination, they are being reviewed. And consideration is being given to giving the courts new powers, improving the appeals process, and cutting off the terrorists' access to the money they use to finance their operations. 

The Home Office is looking at proposals for tightening the asylum system, to deal with those who seek to abuse it. Against this background, they are looking at the means by which transport companies obtain a wide range of information on arriving passengers and then provide it to law enforcement agencies. All these measures are expected to have wider benefits to law enforcement agencies fighting related threats to our society such as drugs and organised crime.

The Home Office is also considering tightening the laws on incitement to cover religious as well as racial hatred.

On the economic front, my Right Honourable Friend, the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, set out earlier in the week the new measures that we intend to take to ensure that no bank or financial institution, national or international, will be able to offer a hiding place for terrorist funds without fear of prosecution. These measures include police monitoring of accounts that may be used for terrorism. Police powers to seize cash throughout the country. Police powers to freeze funds at the outset of an investigation. Tougher obligations on banks and financial institutions to report transactions that they suspect may be related to terrorism. Supervising the implementation of the money laundering regulations by bureaux de change and money transmitters. And allowing the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise to exchange relevant information with law enforcement authorities.

These actions will be replicated across the world, as nations respond to the obligations of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, taking the necessary measures to suppress the financing of terrorists and denying them a safe haven from which to operate.

Mr Speaker. 

The Cold War ended twelve years ago. We knew what it meant when the Berlin Wall came down. We knew that we were watching events that would reshape our lives - as we did when the twin towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed. 

The end of the Cold War meant that threats to international stability were no longer likely to come from superpower rivalries - but from ethnic and religious conflict; population and environmental pressures; competition for scarce resources; drugs, crime, and, of course, terrorism. 

And events over the last decade have, sadly, proved that we were right. Ethnic conflict in the Balkans. Vicious internal conflict in Sierra Leone to gain control of the diamond fields. Environmental disasters in Mozambique. 

We knew that the world had changed and so we had to change to face these new challenges. The Strategic Defence Review ensured that our Armed Forces were structured and equipped to operate and succeed in this new environment.

The process of implementing the Review is still underway. But already we are seeing the results. Our Armed Forces have deployed to Kosovo, to East Timor, to Sierra Leone, to Macedonia - in each case acting with skill and determination and, only where necessary, with lethal force. They have, again and again, been a force for good in this world.

The Strategic Defence Review leaves us well placed to take on and defeat international terrorism. We have significantly improved capabilities - reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, precision strike, rapid deployment, and sophisticated command and control - all of which will play their part in the campaign against international terrorism.

But the attacks on the United States have shown us that we must build on this success and go further. We must look harder at the kind of asymmetric threat that we saw on 11 September. We must ensure that our concepts, force structures, and capabilities are exactly those that we need. 

As I have already made clear, this will not be a new Strategic Defence Review. But we need to add a new chapter to it and to look hard at our priorities in our plans and programmes, so that we can add capability where it counts. 

And just as the Strategic Defence Review itself benefited from an open and inclusive approach, so will this further work draw fully on wider opinion and expertise.

Mr Speaker, the United Kingdom will respond to the challenge of meeting this new threat.

But achieving our objectives - bringing Usama bin Laden to account, along with others who support him, and tackling the wider threat of international terrorism wherever it operates in our world - will not be easy. 

We are embarking on a new mission - requiring a multifaceted approach on a number of fronts. It will involve a series of deliberate, co-ordinated steps. I appeal to the House not to judge the success of the strategy by individual actions, but by the results of the whole. 

Staying the course will be hard. It will be long. It may be painful. We will have to show the patience and the resilience that we have shown in facing other threats in our history. 

Continuing the patient, careful strategy that we have begun is the way to achieve our goal. I know that the House will share our determination to see this through. At the very least, it is what we owe to those who died three weeks ago.

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