There will be "no negotiations with al Qa'ida", British officials vowed today after the terror group offered a truce with Europe.
A spokesman claiming to be leader Osama bin Laden made the offer in a tape recording aired on Arab satellite TV stations.
It did not extend to the United States and would only begin once all European soldiers quit "Islamic" countries, he said.
"I announce a truce with the European countries that do not attack Muslim countries," the speaker said.
There was no way to verify whether he was bin Laden, the fugitive terror leader behind the September 11 attacks.
However, the message was being taken seriously, the Foreign Office said.
"We can't negotiate with al Qa'ida," a spokesman said.
"Their attacks are against the very idea of co-existence and conflict is their raison d'etre. To hide in the face of the threat is not an answer. The right response is to continue to confront terrorism not give in to its demands."
Attempts to drive a wedge between Europe and the US would fail, the Foreign Office spokesman said.
"The idea of an armistice with a group that defines itself by violence is an absurdity," he said. "This is a cynical ploy to split Europe and the US.
"Neither we nor our European partners are going to be intimidated into withdrawing from action against terrorism or to break the trans-Atlantic alliance that has been the cornerstone of our freedom and defence policy for decades."
The al Qa'ida spokesman claimed Europeans had only been targeted after Muslims had been killed.
He referred to the March 11 bombings in the Spanish capital Madrid as well as the events of September 11, 2001 in the US. The attacks were payment for US and Spanish actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, he said.
"What happened on September 11 and March 11 are your goods returned to you, so that you know security is a necessity for all," the man said.
"They say that we kill for the sake of killing, but reality shows that they lie. Stop spilling our blood so we can stop spilling your blood. This is a difficult but easy equation."
The Foreign Office denounced the claims as "hypocrisy as well as plain wrong".
"It is al Qa'ida who kill Muslims," the spokesman said. "In the last five years as many as 4,000 people have died in terrorist attacks.
"Many of these attacks have occurred in Islamic countries. Most of the people murdered were not the supposed targets for these terrorist groups. They were local people going about their lives peacefully. Contrast that to the British and international community's efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We are not going to be intimidated into abandoning these people."
It was "impossible" to know whether the tape was from bin Laden, who has been missing since the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, the Foreign Office said.
"Its incitement to violence and quasi-religious justification is typical of al Qa'ida," the spokesman said.
"Whether it is bin Laden or not, we take the message seriously."
The spokesman added: "To have a foreign policy dictated by fear of reprisal from Islamic fundamentalist terrorism would be to have a British foreign policy written by bin Laden."
The "truce" offer must not be allowed to split the coalition against terror, the shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said today.
"It is obviously an attempt by al Qa'ida or the associates of al Qa'ida, to try and drive a wedge between the coalition," he said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"They are frightened about the effectiveness of the coalition. They would like to think that they can frighten the Europeans out of the Coalition, particularly in the fight against them.
"I think we have got to make absolutely sure that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder within the coalition in the fight against bin Laden, al Qa'ida and international terrorism."Reuse content