Blair outlines evidence in attacks


LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly disclosed details yesterday of evidence against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network and said they had "planned and carried out" the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

In a terse statement read before a hushed House of Commons called into emergency session, Blair outlined parts of the investigation and warned Afghanistan's Taliban regime to give up bin Laden and his organization or "become our enemy also."

Blair said, "The attacks on 11 September bear all the hallmarks of a bin Laden operation: meticulous long-term planning; a desire to inflict mass casualties; a total disregard for innocent lives, including Muslims; multiple simultaneous attacks; and the use of suicide attackers."

Since the beginning of the crisis, Blair has emerged as the most forceful international supporter of the United States in helping to build a world coalition against terrorism. Up to 200 Britons were killed when the World Trade Center was toppled. Thousands of British troops are assembled for a long-planned military exercise in Oman, and some could be called upon to join U.S. forces in expected retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan.

In recent days, Blair has provided the rhetoric, and now some of the evidence, to solidify the coalition and lay the groundwork for strikes.

Blair said three of the 19 suspected hijackers have been identified as "known associates" of bin Laden, but did not name them. One was identified as "playing key roles" in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in which 224 people were killed and thousands injured, and last year's assault on the USS Cole, which left 18 dead.

Blair said intelligence reports indicate that shortly before last month's attacks, bin Laden "told associates that he had a major operation against America under preparation." Blair said "a range of people were warned to return to Afghanistan because of action on or around 11 September." He added that "one of bin Laden's closest lieutenants has said clearly that he helped with the planning of the 11 September attacks and has admitted the involvement of the al-Qaida organization."

Blair said bin Laden provides his Taliban hosts "with troops, arms and money to fight the Northern Alliance," and is "closely involved with the Taliban's military training, planning and operations," including having representatives in the Taliban's military command structure.

In return, Blair said, the Taliban provide bin Laden "a safe haven within which to operate and allowed him to establish terrorist training camps. They jointly exploit the Afghan drugs trade. In return for active al-Qaida support, the Taliban allow al-Qaida to operate freely, including planning, training and preparing for terrorist activity. In addition, they provide security for the stockpiles of drugs."

Blair seemed to set aims for the first round of a global war against terrorism by telling the Commons: "We must bring bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders to justice and eliminate the terrorist threat they pose. And we must ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbor and sustain international terrorism. If the Taliban regime will not comply with that objective, we must bring about change in that regime to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism are broken."

The prime minister said new leads were being developed, but "it was not possible without compromising people or security to release precise details." Later, through his 10 Downing St. office, Blair released to Parliament a dossier on the investigation to persuade the public that there is a strong case against bin Laden.

The document says it "does not purport to provide a prosecutable case," but it was the first official release of intelligence information on the attacks. Much of the material appears to come from public sources, including U.S. court cases and news articles, but some details were gleaned from intelligence and the current criminal investigation.

"There is evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release," the document says.

Blair's government has concluded that bin Laden's al-Qaida organization "has the will, and the resources, to execute further attacks of similar scale. Both the United States and its close allies are targets for such attacks."

The document says the attacks in the United States "could not have occurred without the alliance between the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, which allowed bin Laden to operate freely in Afghanistan, promoting, planning and executing terrorist activity."

The document summarizes the background of bin Laden and al-Qaida, details their antipathy toward the United States and "un-Islamic" governments in Muslim countries, outlines the group's command structure, and reviews previous attacks against U.S. interests. It says bin Laden and al-Qaida "have sought to acquire nuclear and chemical materials for use as terrorist weapons."

The document in effect provides a small number of new details while creating a chain of circumstantial evidence linking attacks in Somalia, East Africa and the USS Cole with the Sept. 11 strikes in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania.

"No other organization has both the motivation and the capability to carry out attacks like those of 11 September - only the al-Qaida network under Osama bin Laden," the document says.

According to the British, "al-Qaida functions both on its own and through a network of other terrorist organizations," including Egyptian Islamic Jihad and groups in Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and India, while maintaining "cells and personnel in a number of other countries."

While bin Laden heads al-Qaida, "below him is a body known as the Shura, which includes representatives of other terrorist groups, such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Ayman Zawahiri and prominent lieutenants of bin Laden, such as Abu Hafs Al-Masri. Egyptian Jihad has, in effect, merged with al-Qaida."

Bin Laden's business transactions for al-Qaida include purchasing land for training camps, warehouses, explosives, communications and electronics equipment, and "transporting currency and weapons to members of al-Qaida and associated terrorist groups in countries throughout the world."

The document says bin Laden began to set up training camps and guesthouses for operatives and associated terrorist groups in 1989. "We know from intelligence that there are currently at least a dozen camps across Afghanistan, of which at least four are used for training terrorists."

Since the attacks in the United States, the British say they have established these facts from "intelligence sources":

"In the run-up to 11 September, bin Laden was mounting a concerted propaganda campaign among like-minded groups of people - including videos and documentation - justifying attacks on Jewish and American targets; and claiming that those who died in the course of them were carrying out God's work."

"Bin Laden himself asserted shortly before 11 September that he was preparing a major attack on America," and that in August and early September "close associates of bin Laden were warned to return to Afghanistan from other parts of the world by 10 September."

Before the attacks, "some known associates of bin Laden were naming the date for action as on or around 11 September."

"We have learned that one of bin Laden's closest and most senior associates was responsible for the detailed planning of the attacks."

The attacks in America were "entirely consistent with previous attacks," the document says.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad