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Tony Blair: We must back fight against extremists

The following piece by Tony Blair first appeared in The Sun on Wednesday 23rd January 2013

The terrible slaughter of innocent hostages in Algeria has brought this country together in shock and grief.

It is impossible to imagine the ordeal of the men involved or the trauma that their families are suffering.  They need all our support and sympathy.

But the murders also reminded us that the threat from violent extremism has not gone away and must be faced down wherever we find it. 

We cannot afford to allow large areas of our world, no matter how remote or inhospitable they might seem, to fall under the control of those determined to export their brand of violence and hatred.  

For their twisted ideology never allows them to be satisfied with what they hold but always to look to how they can cross more borders and destroy more lives.

Al-Qaeda may no longer be under the control of a single leadership group but it is no less dangerous. 

Groups which have bought into its violent doctrine have spread to many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.    

This outrage was carried out by a group who are engaged in a full-scale violent revolt in neighbouring Mali. 

There will be some, of course, who try to deflect the blame onto the French for their military intervention in support of the Malian Government.  

They will claim again that if only we in Europe or America did not interfere our citizens would be left in peace.

I have no doubt that many expressing this view are sincere in their beliefs. But I am also certain that they are totally wrong. 

An attack of this sophistication was planned well before France began its military support for the Government of Mali and its people just a few days ago.  

The fanatics have simply used France’s intervention as an excuse for their sickening bloodlust. It is a pattern we have seen time and time again. 

I also believe that France was entirely right to come to the aid of Mali. President Hollande was courageous to sanction it.

Without this action, it seemed likely that the rebels would over-run much of the country before the African Union force, which is being sent to support the Malian Government, was on the ground. 

Once the Islamist rebels had taken Mali, they would not have stopped there but gone on to threaten neighbouring countries and the wider region. 

We cannot afford to let this happen. For a start, a country like Britain with its global reach has citizens and businesses working right across the world. 

As we have seen in the tragedy in Algeria, citizens from many countries worked at the BP refinery. 

We cannot pull everyone back within our borders, nor guarantee their safety if we did. 

For we also found out on 9/11 what can happen if we allow a country, even a nation as far away as Afghanistan, to become a safe haven for violent extremists.  

This does not mean that British forces have to be militarily involved wherever al-Qaeda threatens.

But it does mean we must be ready to support those who are taking the fight to them.  

Nor can we ignore the conditions which provide fertile ground for this distorted ideology to take root.

In the Sahara, as in Afghanistan, the Yemen and across the Middle East, the fanatics have exploited abject poverty and despair for their own ends.

It is not a question of winning a military battle against extremists and then abandoning the population.   

We have to be ready to help them build a better life for their families. 

I wish I could say it was straightforward or that there will be no more tragedies.  

But David Cameron is right to warn that this is a battle for our values and way of life which will take years, even decades. It is also a battle we cannot shirk.