Select Committee on Defence Second Report


1. On 11 September 2001 two hijacked planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A third was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth came down in countryside near Pittsburgh. In terms of both the loss of life and of property this was the most destructive terrorist attack ever. Some 4,000 innocent civilians were killed, including some 80 UK citizens. There is little doubt that the perpetrators of these acts were members of the al Qaeda organisation. It has been said that the world changed on that day, that the course of history was knocked onto a different and more dangerous track.

2. In this report we attempt to examine how, as a consequence, our understanding of the threat to UK security and defence interests has changed. We look at how the implications of those events are being addressed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and our Armed Forces, and we reach some preliminary conclusions. We will examine some of the issues raised in this report in more detail in our forthcoming inquiry into Defence and Security in the UK following the 11 September terrorist attacks.

3. During the course of our inquiry we took evidence from MoD officials, and from a number of academics and other experts.[4] We also visited the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down (part of the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) and held a number of other meetings. We concluded with an evidence session with the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Geoff Hoon. We also received a number of written memoranda.[5] We are grateful to all those who contributed to the inquiry. We were ably assisted by our specialist advisers, Professor Michael Clarke, Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, Air Vice-Marshal Professor Tony Mason, Dr Andrew Rathmell and Professor Paul Wilkinson



4. We are aware that the proper definition of terrorism has frequently been disputed. Indeed we understand that a failure to agree on a definition of terrorism has been one of the principal factors holding up progress in the United Nations (UN) on the Indian proposal for a convention on global terrorism. For the purposes of this report we have been guided by the definitions of terrorism in UK and US law. Since this report arises out of the attacks of 11 September we have addressed terrorism in its international context, what has been categorised as 'strategic terrorism'.[6] We have focussed on terrorism with militant Islamist roots, particularly as represented by al Qaeda. We have not considered either domestic or Irish terrorism.

5. The definition of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000 is complicated but essentially it provides that terrorism is the use, or threat, of action which is violent, damaging or disrupting and is intended to influence the government or intimidate the public and is for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause. The Act also proscribed a number of terrorist groups, and actions taken for their benefit are treated under the Act as actions taken for the purposes of terrorism. This definition has not been altered by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill currently before Parliament.

6. On 12 October 2001 President Bush signed Executive Order 13224-Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions with Persons who Commit, Threaten to Commit or Support Terrorism. In that order terrorism is defined as an activity that—

i.    involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and

ii.  appears to be intended—

a.  to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

b.  to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

c.  to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.

Al Qaeda is proscribed under the UK's Terrorism Act[7] and under the US Executive Order.

4  For list of witnesses see p xliii Back

5  For list of memoranda see p xliv Back

6  Q 162 Back

7  Through the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2001, S.I. No 1261 Back

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Prepared 18 December 2001