WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 -- NATO Secretary-General George Robertson on Tuesday said the United States had provided "clear and compelling evidence" showing "conclusively" that Osama bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
This paves the way for combined NATO action against bin Laden, his organization and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban party, under Article 5 of the alliance treaty.
"(It) has now been determined that the attack against the United States on Sept. 11 was directed from abroad and shall therefore be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that an armed attack on one or more of the Allies in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all," Robertson said in Brussels, Belgium.
This is the first time in the alliance's 50-year history that Article 5 has been invoked.
Article 5 does not require military action on the part of the allies in support of the United States, but it does mean NATO supports the United States and recognizes bin Laden and the Taliban as parties to the attack, according to Frances Burwell, director of the program on transatlantic relations for Atlantic Council of the United States.
Burwell told United Press International invoking Article 5 is significant because it means the United States will no longer have to question whether the allies will support what the Bush administration calls its war against terrorism, but rather how they will aid the response.
Some nations will offer military support, others financial or logistical support, like over-flight rights, she said.
NATO approved a measure on Sept. 13 invoking Article 5 on the condition that the United States provided sufficient evidence that this was an attack from an external force.
"In fact one of the things that is significant is that we have in the past been regarded (by Europe) as being trigger happy in terms of finding someone to retaliate against," Burwell said. "This time every one seems to be marching together."
U.S. Ambassador-At-Large Francis Taylor, a former Air Force general, briefed the North Atlantic Council, NATO's political arm, in a classified session Tuesday on the results of the ongoing investigation into the attacks.
According to Robertson, "The information presented points conclusively to an al Qaida role in the 11 September attacks. We know that the individuals who carried out these attacks were part of the world-wide terrorist network of al Qaida, headed by Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants and protected by the Taliban."
Details of the evidence handed to NATO and to other governments the Bush administration hopes to recruit into a coalition against international terrorism is still a closely guarded secret.