Blair speaks of "flood" of evidence against Bin Laden

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Prime Minister Tony Blair today declared there was now "a flood" of evidence proving Osama bin Laden was guilty of the September 11 atrocities - and also tackled head-on growing criticism of the bombing campaign against Afghanistan.

Mr Blair said those who raised doubts in a democracy were not appeasers or faint-hearts, and sought to reassure them that the international war against terrorism was just and had to be fought.

But he warned this was not a conventional conflict and said the exact nature of any future ground operations may have to remain secret.

Mr Blair, speaking to the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff, said: "I said a few days ago that now would be the testing time. People want results, they want them as fast as possible.

"They realise the formidable challenges posed by any action in Afghanistan. They worry about civilian casualties. They are anxious about the refugee crisis as winter approaches. They wonder what comes after the conflict.

"All these concerns deserve to be answered. No-one who raises doubts is an appeaser or a faint-heart.

"We are a democracy, strong enough to have doubts raised even at a time of war and wise enough to be able to respond to them."

But the Prime Minister went on to recall the events of September 11 saying: "Thousands of people were killed in cold blood in the worst terrorist attacks the world has ever seen."

Mr Blair went on: "Those responsible were the al Qaida network reared by Osama bin Laden. That is a fact barely disputed by anyone any more.

"Incidentally, the intelligence evidence, significant when I first drew attention to it on October 3, is now a flood, confirming guilt."

Mr Blair said there was now "a group of people in Afghanistan who are the sworn enemies of everything the civilised world stands for who have killed once on a vast scale and will kill again unless stopped".

The Prime Minister went on: "They have one hope: that we are decadent, that we lack the moral fibre or will or courage to take them on; that we might begin but we won't finish; that we will start, then falter; that when the first setbacks occur, we will lose our nerve.

"They are wrong. We won't falter.

"We will not stop until our mission is complete. We will not flinch from doing what is necessary to complete it. We will not fail and we will do it all because we believe in our values of justice, tolerance and respect for all regardless of race, religion or creed just as passionately as they believe in a fanatical hatred of Jews, Christians and any Muslims who don't share their perverse view of Islam."

Mr Blair repeated the coalition aims and went on: "The means we use will be air power, ground operations as and when necessary, support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban regime elements and building up a strong political and diplomatic coalition against the present Taliban regime."

The Prime Minister said action so far had met with much success but he went on: "Two words of caution - this is not a conventional conflict. It is not a battle for territory as such or for the subjugation of Afghanistan.

"It is a battle to allow Afghans themselves to re-take control of their country."We simply cannot and should not disclose the exact nature of the ground operations we intend to undertake but there is a limit to what we can sensibly discuss in public."

Mr Blair paid tribute to the Arab and Muslim countries who have supported the international coalition but he stressed: "Every part of this is difficult. Every part requires courage, conviction, hard work.

"In every part, there may be setbacks from time to time. But in every part, we have justice and right on our side, and a strategy to deliver."

The Prime Minister stressed it was important "we never forget why we are doing it".He told his audience: "Never forget how we felt watching the planes fly into the twin towers. Never forget those answering machine messages. Never forget how we felt imagining how mothers told children they were about to die.

"Never forget the guts of the firefighters and police who died trying to save others.

"Never forget the menace of bin Laden in his propaganda video."

Mr Blair insisted: "We are a principled nation and this is a principled conflict.

"September 11 is no less appalling today than it was then, on September 11. Our determination is no less resolute than it was on the day military action began. We have a job to do and it is being done and it will be seen through to the end."