The drive to cement an international coalition against terrorism received a boost last night when Pakistan accepted there was enough evidence to link Osama bin Laden to the terrorist attacks in the US.
Pakistan, the only government which retains diplomatic links with Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, said the evidence supplied to it by America blaming Mr bin Laden for last month's atrocities was conclusive.
As Tony Blair prepared to visit Pakistan, he hoped the evidence would help to quell opposition inside the country to its government's support for the US. At the same time, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, won support from Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, during an urgent trip to the region. Today he travels to Uzbekistan, whose bases the US wants to use for operations against Mr bin Laden and his Taliban protectors.
The first operations, probably in the form of air strikes, could come as soon as Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Blair return, at the start of next week. Nato yesterday approved US requests including unlimited use of airspace, early-warning aircraft and intelligence sharing. President George Bush also announced $320m (£220m) of aid for more than seven million Afghan refugees.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said: "We have seen the material provided to us by the American side. This material certainly provides sufficient basis for indictment in a court of law."
Pakistan went further than the British Government, which admitted that a 21-page dossier outlining the same evidence did "not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama bin Laden in a court of law".
Mr Blair promised to publish further evidence linking Mr bin Laden, saying that yesterday's report was only an "interim assessment". The Government's dossier claimed three of the 19 hijackers had been identified as associates of Mr bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network. American investigators have also found fresh evidence linking another four hijackers to al-Qa'ida.
Downing Street accepted that the dossier was "not complete" because a crucial piece of evidence had been omitted as it was "too sensitive".
Before leaving for Moscow, Mr Blair told an emergency sitting of Parliament that he was in "absolutely no doubt" that Mr bin Laden and al-Qa'ida were responsible for the 11 September attacks. He told the House: "We are now approaching the difficult time when action is taken. It will be difficult, there are no easy options in this situation."
The Government's dossier also warned: "Al-Qa'ida retains the capability and the will to make further attacks on the US and its allies, including the United Kingdom ... The UK and UK nationals are potential targets."
In London a chef from Greenwich, who is alleged to have trained young Muslims in Britain on how to use weapons, was charged yesterday with two offences under anti-terrorism laws. Sulayman Balal Zain-ul-Abidin, 43, will appear in court today.Reuse content