Party leaders line up behind PM as Parliament meets

War on Terrorism: British Reaction
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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister has recalled Parliament and will make a formal statement to MPs this evening about the Allied attacks on Afghanistan.

Opposition leaders lined up behind Tony Blair last night as he announced the involvement of British troops in the first military strikes against Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network and its Taliban protectors.

Downing Street made it clear that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders had both been briefed before the strikes on Britain's intention to take military action.

The Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, speaking from Blackpool where his party's conference was beginning, said the Allied response was "a justified action against an organisation which has put itself beyond the rule of law".

Mr Duncan Smith said the "first duty" of the Opposition was to support the Government in this action. He said that his "thoughts and prayers" were with the service personnel and their families. "I believe we can all take pride in our forces, who I believe will bring honour to us all," he said.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, also pledged his support for military action but said he hoped that casualties would be kept "to an absolute minimum".

Mr Kennedy added: "I regret that this crisis could not have been resolved peacefully but, given the obstinacy of the Taliban government, there was no other option."

There were, however, voices of dissent among MPs. The Father of the House of Commons, Tam Dalyell, said: "So many people, having praised the Americans for their patience, will be profoundly uneasy about this action. Heaven knows what the consequences will be in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and many other countries without whose goodwill we would have little hope of identifying the perpetrators of the [11 September] crime."

The Green Party also criticised the air strikes. Margaret Wright, a principal speaker for the party, said: "The mere threat of war provoked a refugee crisis. Now bombing has begun, the humanitarian crisis will get worse."

Kate Hudson, the vice-chairman of the peace movement CND, described the military attack as "rash", and said she was concerned that innocent civilians would be killed. She added: "As British forces are participating in the attack, any response that is made to the attacks may target Britain as well as the United States."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, urged people to pray for all those caught up in the conflict.

British Muslims were divided in their response to the attacks last night. Khan Moghal, director of the Manchester Council for Community Relations, said the offensive was justified.

He said: "Any action taken had to be measured and have as much support as possible, and this action satisfied those criteria."

But the Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is based at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, claimed Muslims all over the world would become supporters of Mr bin Laden and help to retaliate. He warned that many people saw the war as an attack on Islam and added: "The US have just started putting their foot into a pot of fire." He said: "Small groups have sympathisers all over the place who can never be traced – we are talking about one quarter of the planet."

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