MPs united in shocked condemnation and pledged all-party support for action to bring the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks to justice.
But the solemn five-hour emergency sitting of the House of Commons to debate the crisis heard repeated calls for restraint and warnings that hasty reprisals against Islamist extremists could ignite a "tinderbox" in the Arab world.
Tony Blair told a silent chamber: "What happened in the United States on Tuesday was an act of wickedness for which there can never be 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 be justified."
He said the assaults on New York and Washington "were attacks on the basic democratic values which we all believe in so passionately, and on the civilised world. It is therefore right that Parliament, the fount of our own democracy, makes its democratic voice heard."
Iain Duncan Smith, making his first parliamentary speech as Leader of the Opposition, told MPs that the Government would have the Conservatives' "total support" in its backing for American action.
"The sheer horror of what took place is impossible to comprehend, as is the evil of people who would commit such acts against fellow human beings." He said the events had "shaken the entire world" and said they had "shattered the dangerous notion" that Britain and other nations would no longer be subject to direct threat.
"Whether it be from rogue states or terrorists, what Tuesday showed is that for those prepared to carry out such threats there are no limits to what they will do, no weapons they will not use and no life they will not sacrifice. For them, terror has become an end in itself."
Mr Duncan Smith warned: "President Bush has described Tuesday's outrage as an act of war. He was right. This was an act of war. And now, the message needs to go out loud and clear: those Governments that harbour terrorists will have to learn to live with the consequences of their actions."
The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, said: "I think the angel of death is very much with us today. There is no doubt about that. This is the moment for the international community to get its act together in a better way."
Only Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, broke the sombre mood at Westminster and attracted loud cries of shame. He said: "There's a world of difference between standing shoulder to shoulder with the American people and the fight for justice than hanging on to the coat-tails of an American President whose first act when those firefighters were standing 10 feet tall amongst the rubble in the World Trade Centre, whose first act was to scurry off to his bunker."
Peter Mandelson, a former Northern Ireland Secretary, called for a new international court to concentrate on terrorist finances and urged the United States to re-engage in the Middle East peace process. "To the American people I would say ... don't get mad, get even," he said.
He called for the security services to recruit from the same communities as terrorist groups to infiltrate their ranks. "The James Bonds of the future are not going to be found in the Travellers' Club, in The Athenaeum, they are going to be found on the streets of Bradford and Marseilles."
Donald Anderson, Labour chairman of the influential Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said a military response to the attacks on the US was inevitable. But he advised against an invasion of Afghanistan.
He said: "Bin Laden and his like will not be crushed by missiles and invasion. To reduce the risk we need a subtle combination of policy, not an unbalanced military response."
Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Falkirk East, told MPs he was on Capitol Hill when the attack on the Pentagon took place. "When they said run, we ran. And we ran with thousands of others ... you could see the Pentagon burning as we ran."
He said he flew back over New York and saw the remains of the World Trade Centre below. He told the Commons: "We could see the centre of that great city burning. It didn't take a simulation to let us know of the destruction. Anyone who had been in New York to see Manhattan burning saw a symbol of terror and a symbol, I think, of a challenge to free and democratic society."
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said mosques and other Muslim institutions in Birmingham had received abusive phone messages. They had excrement put through their doors because "ignorant" extremists associated British Muslims with the terrorists.
Sir Patrick Cormack, Conservative MP for Staffordshire South, said: "What we need is a convention which says that the harbouring of terrorists, the nurturing of terrorism, is something that will never be accepted. Nations which refuse to subscribe should frankly forgo any rights to UN assistance and indeed their votes at the UN General Assembly itself."
But he joined calls for a measured response. He said: "We do not want to compound this appalling series of dreadful deeds by the making of more innocent orphans."
Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, called for national identity cards and a DNA data base to track suspected terrorists. "If all this sounds draconian, it is, because those are the measures that open societies have to take when they are under attack," he said. "It is an act of war that has been perpetrated and we must consider whether the measures in response must be judged by peacetime standards or by the standards that obtain when a country is fighting to preserve its life."
Jonathan Sayeed, Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, said that military might alone would not be enough to deal with the problem. "There has to be some understanding why there is such hatred for so many institutions within the United States. Unless we deal with some of the deep-seated causes, then more terrorists will come to the fore."
Paul Marsden, Labour MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, said he had heard reports of Nato bombings planned for Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan. He said: "The whole place could go up in a tinderbox in the Middle East if we are not careful."
George Galloway, Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin and an outspoken critic of Government policy over Iraq, warned: "We are the friends of the Americans. It is no service to a friend to write them a blank cheque. That would not be doing a service to the world or to the USA. The only test that matters is whether the action will make matters better or worse. If you launch a devastating attack upon a Muslim country, killing thousands, you will make 10,000 bin Ladens rise up instead of the one whose head you have cut off."
He warned: "I don't know what you will bomb in Afghanistan, the Stone Age country that we helped to create. There's nothing there to bomb ... the only thing to hit in Afghanistan is people. And every slain Afghan will be a new banner for new bin Ladens."
Bernard Jenkin, making his first Commons outing as shadow Defence Secretary, said the end of the Cold War had "lulled many into a fool's paradise. There is a constant theme that must underpin everything we say and do in the aftermath of Tuesday; there can be no appeasement.
"However cautious we may be obliged to be in what action is taken, however difficult it is to identify those who genuinely share responsibility for the atrocities, and whatever sacrifices need to be made in order to confront them, there can be no appeasement."
Mr Jenkin said: "We must be prepared to commit the necessary resources to ensure we have the capability to respond to this threat. When the time comes for military action we, of all nations, should have the confidence to say to the US, 'We will be by your side'."
He added: "There has been much pessimism but let us have confidence. Our values are not under threat. They are vindicated by the very acts of the terrorists. Their way of life is ultimately self-destroying. All we need to do is carry out what needs to be done with absolute determination and we will win."
Winding up the debate, Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, said Britain was considering what military contribution it could make in response to an American request for help to retaliate against those who "organised, abetted and incited" the attacks. He promised Britain would play a "full and active part" in bringing them to justice.Reuse content