President Bush

Threatens Taliban: President Bush urged the handover of terrorists in Afghanistan Wednesday. (AP photo / September 20, 2001)

WASHINGTON - Declaring that "freedom itself is under attack," President Bush told Congress and the nation last night that the United States was prepared to lead an all-out battle to disrupt and defeat a global web of terrorism.

Bush, trying to rally the country at a time of crisis, said, "The hour is coming" for military action. But he gave no clues as to when, where and how U.S. forces, being deployed around the world, might strike.

In some of his toughest language, Bush bluntly warned nations that support or harbor terrorists that the time had come to choose sides.

"Either you are with us," he declared, "or you are with the terrorists."

Speaking in a firm, even menacing voice, Bush condemned the terrorists as "traitors to their own [Islamic] faith" who are "trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself." He also issued a special warning to the Taliban government of Afghanistan, describing it as a murderous regime.

Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over every terrorist in Afghanistan immediately, including members of the Al Qaeda organization led by Osama bin Laden, "or they will share in [the terrorists'] fate."

He said the United States wanted full access to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, to make sure they are no longer operating, and called for the release of Americans being held by the Taliban for conducting Christian missionary work there.

"Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done," he said, as those in the packed House chamber rose to their feet, applauding.

Bush, who is not given to grand oratory, was often eloquent as he spoke of "civilization's fight" against terrorism.

"Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered a great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment," he said. "Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom - the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time - now depends on us.

"Our nation, this generation, will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will not tire. We will not falter. And we will not fail."

Bush announced a new civil defense initiative, to be headed by Republican Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, a longtime political ally. Ridge, whose title will be director of homeland security, would become a member of Bush's Cabinet.

The president also indicated support for expanding the number of air marshals on domestic flights and for a government bailout of the crippled airline industry.

His remarks were interrupted 28 times by applause from lawmakers wearing red-white-and-blue ribbons. The 34-minute speech, in part a repackaging and refinement of his earlier statements, was aimed at audiences overseas as well as at home.

Bush said the evidence "all points" to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, which he said "is to terror what the Mafia is to crime." But he also stressed the importance of dismantling an entire global terror network involving thousands of terrorists in 60 countries and singled out the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

He also reiterated that his aim is to end international terrorism, widely considered an unrealistic goal. The United States, he said, will battle terrorism with "every necessary weapon of war until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." A senior administration official said those would not include nuclear weapons.

He did acknowledge, however, the special and difficult nature of the counter-terror struggle. Bush said it would be important to go beyond traditional military action in confronting a foe he likened to the Nazis and "all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century."

The United States and its international partners, he said, will marshal other, nonmilitary resources, including diplomacy, spycraft, law enforcement and financial tools.

Bush, in his first year in office and inexperienced in foreign affairs, finds himself face-to-face with a leadership challenge stiffer than any recent president has confronted. In waging what he and others have called the first war of the 21st century, he must maintain the high levels of support he enjoys here and abroad during a shadowy fight that could take years.