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US rallies the west for attack on Afghanistan

Nato drawing up plans for invasion. Blair consulted by Bush Boston arrests

Julian Borger in Washington, Richard Norton-Taylor and Ewen MacAskill in London and Ian Black in Brussels Thursday September 13, 2001 The Guardian

The US yesterday mobilised support from Britain and its other western allies for a crusade against Islamic terrorism in the wake of Tuesday's devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in which thousands of people died. For the first time in its 52-year history, Nato last night invoked Article 5 of its charter, which declares that an attack on any member state is an attack on all, implying automatic European backing for US retaliation.

Nato is now drawing up an emergency plan for a massive attack on Afghanistan if proof emerges that Osama bin Laden, the wanted Saudi-born terrorist sheltered by Afghanistan, was responsible for the attacks.

US justice department officials said yesterday that there was a growing body of evidence pointing towards his involvement. However, many US experts on terrorism, including the former CIA director, James Woolsey, and the former Nato commander in Europe, Wesley Clark, said they believed that Tuesday's terrorist operation also had state sponsorship, and mentioned Iraq as a suspect.

US defence officials stressed that the culprits would be punished. "We have a very large hammer that can be brought to bear in a number of ways at any time," one official said. "That's not a threat, it's a fact."

By invoking Article 5, Nato has committed each member to take "such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area".

Investigators believe that four separate cells were involved in the hijackings, including trained pilots who had learned their skills at private flying schools in the US.

Nato's historic move came amid reports that the intended targets for one of the hijacked aircraft were the White House and the presidential aircraft, Air Force One.

The ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan will now come under intensive pressure from Washington to hand over Bin Laden or face the consequences. Until now the Taliban has steadfastly refused to extradite him.

Under contingency plans being prepared, an assault would involve tens of thousands of ground troops, equivalent to the scale of the force deployed in Kosovo, Nato defence sources said last night.

Such a taskforce, which might take weeks to assemble, would not preclude an initial US cruise missile attack, they said. The Nato sources said any multinational offensive would almost certainly involve British forces. It would also require the active support of Russia.

President George Bush warned Americans that they faced a long, hard struggle against their terrorist enemies, but promised that the country would not stand alone. He promised to "rally the world. We will be patient. We'll be focused, and we will be steadfast in our determination," he said. "This battle will take time and resolve, but make no mistake about it, we will win."

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, said that Washington wanted to build a "global coalition" to fight terrorism that would include not only Nato and Russia, but China and Muslim states.

Mr Bush spoke to Tony Blair during the day, and indicated there would be no knee-jerk reaction. Mr Blair and Mr Bush concurred that the vital thing was to move forward together in a united action.

Mr Blair recalled parliament from its recess to debate the crisis on Friday. He said the attacks were "not only on America, but on the free and democratic world", adding that he expected the number of Britons who died in the World Trade Centre to run into hundreds.

Early today 1,500 rescuers were forced to evacuate the World Trade Centre site after fears that a 54-storey building was about to collapse.

Teams of heavily armed FBI agents detained several people for questioning after raids in Boston and Florida on the trail of evidence left behind by the hijackers. The FBI's new director, Robert Mueller, said no arrests had been made, but justice department officials explained that a number of "material witnesses" had been taken into custody to help the FBI with the inquiry.

Some of the detainees were seized from a hotel in Boston where several of the hijackers are believed to have stayed the night before the attacks.

Police in Providence, Rhode Island, were reported to have stopped and searched a train heading south from Boston and held three passengers.

In Florida the investigation centred on two flying schools, in Venice and in Coral Springs, where some of the hijackers were enrolled as students. One called himself Mohamed Atta. Another reportedly went by the name Mohamed al-Shahid (Mohamed the martyr).

Last year both men took a flying course at Huffman Aviation school in Venice. The school's president and owner, Rudy Dekkers, said the FBI was looking at student records at the flight school, including copies of passports from the men.

A flight instruction video, Arabic aviation manuals, a Koran, and a fuel consumption calculator were found in abandoned cars at Boston airport, the point of departure of the two flights which crashed into the World Trade Centre.,1300,551079,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, September 12, 2001

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