House of Commons
Friday 14 September 2001
International Terrorism and Attacks in the USA
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am
grateful, Mr. Speaker, that you agreed to the recall of Parliament
to debate the hideous and foul events in New York, Washington
and Pennsylvania that took place on Tuesday 11 September.
I thought it particularly important in view of the
fact that these attacks were not just attacks upon people and
buildings; nor even merely upon the United States of America;
these were attacks on the basic democratic values in which we
all believe so passionately and on the civilised world. It is
therefore right that Parliament, the fount of our own democracy,
makes its democratic voice heard.
There will, of course, be different shades of opinion
heard today. That again is as it should be, but let us unite in
agreeing this: what happened in the United States on Tuesday was
an act of wickedness for which there can be no justification.
Whatever the cause, whatever the perversion of religious feeling,
whatever the political belief, to inflict such terror on the world;
to take the lives of so many innocent and defenceless men, women,
and children, can never ever be justified.
Let us unite too, with the vast majority of decent
people throughout the world in sending our condolences to the
Government and people of America. They are our friends and allies,
and we the British are a people who stand by their friends in
times of need, tragedy and trial, and we do so without hesitation
The events themselves are sickeningly familiar to
us. Starting at 08.45 US time, two hijacked planes were flown
straight into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New
York. Shortly afterwards at 09.43, another hijacked plane was
flown into the Pentagon in Washington. At 10.05 the first tower
collapsed; at 10.28 the second; later another building at the
World Trade Centre. The heart of New York’s financial district
was devastated; carnage, death and injury everywhere. Around 10.30
we heard reports that a fourth hijacked aircraft had crashed south
I should like, on behalf of the British people and,
I hope, on behalf of the House, to express our admiration for
the selfless bravery of the New York and American emergency services,
many of whom have lost their lives. As we speak, the total death
toll is still unclear, but it amounts, we know, to several thousands.
Because the World Trade Centre was the home of many
big financial firms, and because many of their employees are British,
whoever committed these acts of terrorism will have murdered at
least a hundred British citizens, maybe many more. Murder of British
people in New York is no different in nature from their murder
here in the heart of Britain itself. In the most direct sense,
therefore, we have not merely an interest, but an obligation to
bring those responsible to account.
To underline the scale of the loss, we can think
back to some of the appalling tragedies that the House has spoken
of in the recent past. We can recall the grief aroused by the
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tragedy at Lockerbie, in which 270 people were killed,
44 of them British. In Omagh, the last terrorist incident to lead
to a recall of Parliament, 29 people lost their lives–each life
lost a tragedy; each one of these events a nightmare for our country.
But the death toll that we are confronting here is of a different
order. In the Falklands war, 255 British service men perished,
and during the Gulf war we lost 47, so in this case, we are talking
about a tragedy of epoch making proportions. As the scale of the
calamity becomes clearer, I fear that there will be many a community
in our country where heartbroken families are grieving the loss
of a loved one. I have asked the Secretary of State for Culture,
Media and Sport to ensure that everything that they need by way
of practical support is being done.
Here in Britain, we have instituted certain precautionary
measures of security. We have tightened security measures at all
British airports, and ensured that no planes can take off unless
their security is assured. We have temporarily redirected air
traffic so that planes do not fly over central London. City airport
is reopening this morning.
We have also been conscious of the possibility of
economic disruption. Some sectors, such as the airlines and the
insurance industry, will be badly affected. But financial markets
have quickly stabilised. The oil producers have helped keep the
oil price steady. Business is proceeding, as far as possible,
There are three things that we must now take forward
urgently. First, we must bring to justice those responsible. Rightly,
President Bush and the US Government have proceeded with care.
They did not lash out. They did not strike first and think afterwards.
Their very deliberation is a measure of the seriousness of their
intent. They, together with allies, will want to identify, with
care, those responsible. That is a judgment that must and will
be based on hard evidence. Once that judgment is made, the appropriate
action can be taken. It will be determined, it will take time,
it will continue over time until this menace is properly dealt
with and its machinery of terror destroyed.
But one thing should be very clear. By their acts,
these terrorists and those behind them have made themselves the
enemies of the entire civilised world. Their objective we know.
Our objective will be to bring to account those who have organised,
aided, abetted and incited this act of infamy; and those who harbour
or help them have a choice: either to cease their protection of
our enemies or be treated as an enemy themselves.
Secondly, this is a moment when every difference
between nations, every divergence of interest, every irritant
in our relations, should be put to one side in one common endeavour.
The world should stand together against this outrage.
NATO has already, for the first time since it was
founded in 1949, invoked article 5 and determined that this attack
in America will be considered as an attack against the alliance
as a whole. The UN Security Council on Wednesday passed a resolution
which set out its readiness to take all necessary steps to combat
terrorism. From Russia, China, the EU, from Arab states, Asia
and the Americas, from every continent of the world, has come
united condemnation. This solidarity must be maintained and translated
into support for action.
We do not yet know the exact origin of this evil.
But if, as appears likely, it is so-called Islamic fundamentalists,
we know that they do not speak or act for the vast majority
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of decent law-abiding Muslims throughout the world.
I say to our Arab and Muslim friends: "Neither you nor Islam
is responsible for this; on the contrary, we know you share our
shock at this terrorism, and we ask you as friends to make common
cause with us in defeating this barbarism that is totally foreign
to the true spirit and teachings of Islam."
I would add that, now more than ever, we have reason not to let
the middle east peace process slip still further, but if at all
possible to reinvigorate it and move it forward.
Thirdly, whatever the nature of the immediate response
to these terrible events in America, we need to rethink dramatically
the scale and nature of the action that the world takes to combat
We know a good deal about many of these terror groups.
But as a world we have not been effective at dealing with them.
Of course it is difficult. We are democratic. They are not. We
have respect for human life. They do not. We hold essentially
liberal values. They do not. As we look into these issues it is
important that we never lose sight of our basic values. But we
have to understand the nature of this enemy and act accordingly.
Civil liberties are a vital part of our country
and of our democratic world. But the most basic liberty of all
is the right of the ordinary citizen to go about their business
free from fear or terror. That liberty has been denied, in the
cruellest way imaginable, to the passengers aboard the hijacked
planes, to those who perished in the trade towers and the Pentagon,
to the hundreds of rescue workers killed as they tried to help.
We need to look once more, nationally and internationally,
at extradition laws and the mechanisms for international justice,
at how these terrorist groups are financed and their money laundered
and the links between terror and crime, and we need to frame a
response that will work and hold internationally. For this form
of terror knows no mercy, no pity and no boundaries.
Let us make this reflection too. A week ago, anyone
suggesting that terrorists would kill thousands of innocent people
in downtown New York would have been dismissed as alarmist, yet
it happened. We know that these groups are fanatics, capable of
killing without discrimination. The limits on the numbers that
they kill and their methods of killing are not governed by any
sense of morality. The limits are only practical and technical.
We know, that they would, if they could, go further and use chemical,
biological, or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction. We know,
also, that there are groups or people, occasionally states, who
will trade the technology and capability of such weapons.
It is time that this trade was exposed, disrupted,
and stamped out. We have been warned by the events of 11 September,
and we should act on the warning.
There is a great deal to do and many details to
be filled in, and much careful work to be undertaken over the
coming days, weeks and months. We need to mourn the dead and then
act to protect the living.
Terrorism has taken on a new and frightening aspect.
The people perpetrating it wear the ultimate badge of the fanatic:
they are prepared to commit suicide in pursuit of their beliefs.
Our beliefs are the very opposite of theirs. We believe in reason,
democracy and tolerance. These beliefs are the foundation of our
civilised world. They are enduring, they have served us well,
and as history has shown, we have been prepared to fight, when
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defend them. The fanatics should know that we hold
our beliefs every bit as strongly as they hold theirs, and now
is the time to show it.