September 12, 2001
Statement on the tragic events in the United States
Prime Minister Tony Blair
First of all, I would like to give you an update on this morningís meeting of the Civil Contingencies Committee.
We have agreed to keep in place the additional security measures that I announced yesterday, at least for the rest of the day. This is a purely precautionary measure but wise in the circumstances, and I hope those who are suffering the disruption understand why we believe this to be necessary. Most of the City and business throughout the country is functioning as normal.
We also discussed what practical help and expertise we can offer to America in dealing with the immediate aftermath of this tragedy.
I will chair a further meeting of this Committee later today and in addition, there will be a special meeting of the Cabinet tomorrow.
Also, I should tell you that the Government has requested that Parliament be recalled and The Speaker has agreed to this.
I have consulted the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, and other parties, and propose that Parliament be recalled for this Friday, 14 September, when I will make a statement to the House, and the Foreign Secretary will then open a full debate on the issues that arise from yesterdayís atrocity.
I believe Parliament should be recalled both because of the sheer magnitude of the event, and its implications, but also because this was an attack not just on a number of buildings, but on the very notion of democracy. It is therefore all the more important that democratic voices are heard and in our country, Parliament is the place for that to happen.
I have also spoken to several world leaders, including the Presidents of France and Russia, Chancellor Schroeder, Prime Minister Berlusconi and Prime Minister Verhofstadt in his capacity as the current President of the EU.
We all agreed that this attack is an attack not only on America but on the world, which demands our complete and united condemnation, our determination to bring those responsible to justice and our support for the American people at this time of trial.
It is also clear that given the likely death toll, there will be many citizens of other states who will have died. I have to say that I fear significant numbers of them will be British. So in a very real and direct sense, the interests of our country are engaged.
But even if that were not so, the world now knows the full evil and capability of international terrorism which menaces the whole of the democratic world. The terrorists responsible have no sense of humanity, of mercy, or of justice.
To commit acts of this nature requires a fanaticism and wickedness that is beyond our normal contemplation.
The USA will be considering the action it considers appropriate against those found to be responsible.
But beyond that, there are issues connected with such terrorism that the international community as a whole must consider: where these groups are, how they operate, how they are financed, how they are supported, and how they are stopped.
One final point. I was pleased to see the very strong statement of condemnation from the British Muslim Council, echoing that of the American Muslim Council. As Muslim leaders and clerics around the world are making clear, such acts of infamy and cruelty are wholly contrary to the Islamic faith. The vast majority of Muslims are decent, upright people who share our horror at what has happened.
People of all faiths and all democratic political persuasions have a common cause: to identify this machinery of terror and to dismantle it as swiftly as possible.
With our American friends, and other allies around the world, this is the task to which we now turn.
The Prime Minister also answered several questions from journalists after his statement:
Q: This is maybe one of those questions, Prime Minister, you canít answer but there have been official and semi-official comments from the United States about Osama Bin Ladenís group being the likely culprit for this. What is the British view of that and do we have any intelligence view about where these attacks have come from?
A: I wonít comment on the identification of who is responsible at this stage but obviously this is something that is under close consideration by our agencies here as well as other agencies round the world and particularly those in the United States of America. Yes, sir.
Q: Prime Minister, to what extent Ė and I know you donít want to be specific Ė but are there no limits to which you would co-operate with the United States government in pursuing the terrorist and, given the possibility, the real possibility that Britain could become a target if you either endorse or insist on reprisals, to what extent do you think the British public is prepared for that?
A: As I said a moment or two ago Mike, I donít think it is wise to speculate on what the nature of any American response would be to this act of terror or indeed what support they may call upon from this country or any other countries in making that response. But I want to make one thing very clear indeed - this was not an attack on America alone. This was an attack on the free and democratic world everywhere and this is the responsibility that the free and democratic world have got to shoulder together with America. And at this time of tragedy in the United States of America that has consequences right across the world Ė and as I say there will be British people that have lost their lives Ė in this time of tragedy and this time of grief and anger and trial in America it is important that Americans know that their allies and their friends around the world do stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Yes, John.
Q: But Prime Minister just continuing this point, can you say how important it is for whatever the American response, whatever that is, for that to be supported by Americanís key allies and in particular by Britain?
A: Well Iím not, you know forgive me if I repeat to you what I said earlier. I am not going to enter into a discussion of what that response may be or any participation of anyone else in it. I simply repeat what Iíve said already to you that I think it is important that we demonstrate our support for the United States of America at this moment. Yes, Kristiana.
Q: Analysts, leaders, people have been saying, and you yourself just said, this is not just an attack on America but on the civilised world. Are you prepared to say that this is a stage of war, a declaration of war against the United States and the civilised world? And, even though you donít want to be specific, you yourself said that we have to "defeat and eradicate these people." What possible way can you do that and do you envision a sort of 1990ís style coalition that might be built in like-minded countries to confront these people once evidence comes to establish certain responsibility?
A: Well of one thing Iíve no doubt and that this was an attack upon the whole of the world and that is why I think it is so important that in addition to whatever action America considers appropriate that the world as a whole is prepared to act. And I sketched out to you a moment or two ago I think some of the questions that we need to pose. It is too early, it is premature to give specific answers to those questions but this was an act of terrorism on a scale I donít think anyone had contemplated before and it shows the new menace that there is that threatens our world. And it is important therefore that the international community, as a whole as well as responding to this particular atrocity, considers the nature of these groups, how they are financed, how they operate and how we defeat them. And I am sure from the discussions that I have had with other leaders in the past few hours that those questions are at the forefront of their mind as well because we all of us know that America may have been singled out by these terrorists but their attack is aimed at all of us and it is therefore vitally important that we stand together in defeating them.
Q: Noting what you said about Britainís Muslims, it is nonetheless the case isnít it that this international terrorism over the past decade has had a common thread of Islamic Fundamentalism and isnít it rather inadequate to try and address this problem by treating it as evil terrorism and isolation and looking at the functionalities of where the money comes from without looking at the basic clash of ideologies and indeed the basic concept of what human rights and the value of human life is?
A: Of course it is evil terrorism and we shouldnít disguise that for a moment but I think you are right in saying that we also have to make it clear and this is done best indeed by voices within the Muslim community and the Islamic faith that such acts of wickedness and terrorism are wholly contrary to the proper principles of the Islamic faith. And one of the reasons I mentioned the statement of the Muslim Council of Britain was in order to underscore the shock and the sense of horror and sense of outrage felt by the vast majority of Muslims round the world. So this is not a situation in which we should see this as a cause between the Muslim faith and the world but between terrorism and the rest of the world, including the Muslim faith.
Q: Prime Minister, beyond the appalling loss of life and injury, one thing is very clear that there has been an appalling breakdown of intelligence in America in particular and in the West in general. The same breakdown in intelligence has delivered the wrong targets in previous reprisals. Will you, before you put at the disposal of the United States any British facility or armed forces, require independent intelligence assessments to be made of any evaluation that the United States might make as to what should be done?
A: Well Jon, if you forgive me going to enter into any discussion of what may happen in the coming period of time, simply to say that the United States of America will be considering who is responsible and they will take the action that they consider appropriate. And as I said earlier, what support we may give to that is something that we will consider at an appropriate time. But be under no doubt at all we stand with the United States of America in this matter. Yes, Trevor.
Q: Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary made it clear this morning that things will never be the same again and that many of the freedoms we have taken for granted until now will have to be reassessed. Could you give us any idea of what the Committee has considered in those terms, at least as far as Britain is concerned? Have you thought about things for instance like identification cards or a reassessment of immigration policy or our attitude to the Convention on Human Rights or Northern Ireland or any of those things? Can you make some comment on that?
A: I canít make any detailed comment on that at this present moment in time Trevor but I think it is clear that we obviously have to consider what the security implications are and what additional measures need to be taken, not just by our country but by other countries round the world, measures either in order to protect our own security or alternatively of course measures that allow us to deal more adequately and better with the terrorist threat. But I very much would want those measures to be part of a process that means that we are defending the basic rights and freedoms and those freedoms are essential to our democracy. So of course we will consider these things and we will be in a position to give a more detailed response to that in due course. Yes.
Q: Do you feel by standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States and saying we are determined to eradicate this threat we are ourselves a possible target?
A: I donít think thereís any doubt at all that this threat is aimed at the whole of the democratic world. The United States has been singled out but there is no doubt at all that these terrorists will regard us all as targets and therefore it is important for us, whilst this has happened in the United States of America, to remember that very basic fact Ė this is an attack on the free and democratic world as a whole. And of course, as I was pointing out to you just a moment or two ago, because of the sheer scale of the death toll and the carnage as a result of this atrocity, there will be many British people that have been caught up in it. So our interests are engaged in a very real and direct way. Now, if youíll forgive me, I donít think I will take any more questions at this stage but we will continue to keep you fully informed of all developments. Thank you.