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Britain's Blair: Air Strikes are Not Revenge - 2001-10-09

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the U.S. and British air strikes in Afghanistan are not intended for revenge, but to prevent more terrorist attacks in the future.

Prime Minister Blair had sought the interview on al-Jazeera satellite channel, which is widely viewed in the Middle East. He wanted to rebut Osama bin Laden, named as the chief suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The exiled Saudi had appeared on al-Jazeera with a videotaped statement Sunday, shortly after U.S. led air strikes began on suspected terrorist and military targets in Afghanistan.

The accused terrorist praised the hijackers who crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last month. He said America had gotten what it deserved.

So it was in that context that Mr. Blair invited al-Jazeera to his office at 10 Downing Street for an interview. Mr. Blair was asked whether he is seeking justice or revenge. "We do not want revenge. We do want justice, and of course if the Taleban regime in Afghanistan had yielded Osama bin Laden up and his network of terrorists, then they could have stood justice," he said. "But that is not what happened. They refused to yield him up."

The prime minister, who has been reading the Koran, said he can find nothing in it to support mass killing. "I can not understand how anybody who truly studies the teaching of Islam and the words of the message of the Koran can possibly justify the slaughter of so many thousands of innocent people," he said.

Mr. Blair said the U.S. and British military action in Afghanistan could prevent terrorist attacks in the future. "We have to take action against those who have not just carried out this act, but now threaten to carry out more such acts," he said.

Shortly before his interview was broadcast, Mr. Blair held his first meeting with what he is calling his "war cabinet." It includes the secretaries of defense, foreign affairs, home security, foreign aid, and the military chief of staff.

Downing Street officials say the "war cabinet" will meet frequently to discuss Britain's next moves in the international campaign against terrorism.