The evidence linking Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist organisation to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon is "clear and compelling", Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson said today.

After the most detailed briefing yet from America on the investigation into the September 11 atrocity, he said the Alliance was now formally invoking for the first time its Treaty Article 5 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."

Nato made the unprecedented decision to invoke the Article the day after the attacks - but only on condition that was demonstrated that the assault came from another territory.

After talks at Nato headquarters in Brussels with Washington's counter-terrorism chief Frank Taylor, Lord Robertson said: "On the basis of this briefing, it has now been determined that the attack against the United States was directed from abroad and shall therefore be regarded as an action covered by Article 5".

Mr Taylor, the US State Department Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, took Lord Robertson through details of the US case linking the attacks to Bin Laden and the Al-Qaida organisation, and setting out exactly how the terrorists are being protected by the Taliban.

Mr Taylor explained the course of the inquiry so far, and what is known of Al-Qaida's involvement in previous terrorist attacks, as well as those on September 11.

Lord Roberston told reporters afterwards that the contents of the meeting were classified, but he went on: "The facts are clear and compelling. The information presented points conclusively to an Al-Qaida role in the September 11 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."

Lord Robertson added: "I want to reiterate that the USA can rely on the full support of its 18 Nato Allies in the campaign against terrorism."

America made no specific requests for military or intelligence support today, and the likelihood remains that there will be a limited role only for just a few of the Nato allies - possibly just Britain and France - in any US-lead operation.

The 15 EU member states have already produced a tougher-than-expected declaration agreeing that US military action against terrorists is "legitimate" and that all EU countries will all play a role if required, "each according to its means".

But it remains unclear to what extent such support, either through the EU or Nato, will be requested by Washington.

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