PM attacks the 'lie' that Allies are fighting Islam

War on terrorism: Parliament
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Indy Politics

Tony Blair denounced Osama bin Laden's "lie machine" as he accused the terrorist leader of defaming the name of Islam by masterminding last month's atrocities in the United States.

Addressing the third emergency recall of Parliament, the Prime Minister reserved his strongest words for a scathing condemnation of Mr bin Laden following his "chilling" television appearance on Sunday.

Mr Blair, who will broadcast a message to the Muslim world today, said: "Already [Mr bin Laden's] lie machine is putting out false claims about US planes being shot down. There will be much more of this sort of thing.

"We know their aim – it is to foment conflict between Islam and the West, it is to present themselves as champions of the Muslim world against the USA. It is to say we are anti-Islam. This is a lie."

He repeated that the Allies were in conflict with Mr bin Laden and the Taliban regime rather than the Muslim world.

Mr Blair said: "To kill, as these terrorists did, is utterly foreign to all teachings of the Koran. To justify it by saying such murder of the innocent is doing the will of God is to defame the good name of Islam. That is why Muslims all over the world over have been appalled by this act."

He pointed out that the UK Government had taken vigorous action in Kosovo to protect Muslim Kosovars from the ethnic cleansing of the "hated Milosevic regime".

Mr Blair said: "We weren't acting then against Milosevic because Serbia is an orthodox Christian country or in favour of the Kosovars because many are Muslims. We acted against Milosevic because what he was doing – the humanitarian catastrophe he was inflicting on them – was unjust."

Speaking as renewed military attacks got under way, the Prime Minister told MPs that initial indications from the first wave of attacks were that coalition operations had been "successful in achieving their objective of destroying and degrading elements of the al-Qa' ida terrorist facilities and the Taliban military apparatus that protects them".

He warned MPs that Britain was in for the "long haul" and hinted that the Allies' military strikes could eventually spread beyond Afghanistan. "Even when al-Qa'ida is dealt with, the job is not over. The network of international terrorism is not confined to it."

Mr Blair confirmed that extensive contingency planning was under way to prevent any reprisals in Britain.

"We are doing all we reasonably can to anticipate the nature of and thwart any potential retaliation."

He warned: "We know that if they are not stopped the terrorists will do it again, possibly this time in Britain."

The Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who returned from his party conference in Blackpool for the debate, said there were "legitimate concerns" in Britain about the consequences of the military action.

But he said: "The consequences of inaction are far, far greater. This is not a conflict of our own making, but is a conflict we must win.

"During this time we should continue to go about our normal daily lives. To do anything else would be to reward terrorists with a victory that they must never have."

Echoing the Prime Minister's condemnation of Mr bin Laden's claims to speak for Muslims, Mr Duncan Smith said: "His is a cynical and suicidal cult dedicated to the destruction of civilisations and lives, irrespective of their faith."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "The military strikes now taking place are tragic, but they were inevitable. The appalling terrorism of Osama bin Laden, protected by the Taliban, left us with no alternative. "But we also need to focus now on what comes next. I urge the Prime Minister to spell out what are his long-term objectives. Successful military action must be accompanied by an enduring political solution for the troubled people of Afghanistan."

Before the debate the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, forecast that the military attacks on Afghanistan were likely to stretch on towards the end of the year.

He signalled that the Government was not expecting the imminent collapse of the Taliban regime with a warning that the action would continue until Mr bin Laden's terrorist network was destroyed. Mr Straw said: "We are certainly not talking days, unless something absolutely dramatic happens. We are talking weeks. It will be sustained until a judgement is made that the action has been successful."

But the consensus between the leadership of the three main parties was broken by left-wing MPs who warned that the conflict could spiral out of control. Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow and Father of the House of Commons, said the US and Britain had played into the terrorists' hands by launching military action against Mr bin Laden.

"He must be chuckling at all these predictable disturbances from Egypt to Indonesia and be wondering how many recruits to his cause [have been won over] by this bombing," Mr Dalyell said.

Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham South, said the Allies should have gained more explicit United Nations approval for the action.

He said: "The thing that worried me is that as soon as you move into a bombing mode, you seem to be going from the pursuit of a terrorist to an attack on a country.

"If you want to occupy the moral high ground that has brought this international coalition together, it really needs an international legal and moral mandate."