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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged Friday that Saddam Hussein didn't become a bigger threat after Sept. 11, but said his perception of the risk posed by terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction was dramatically changed by the attacks.

Blair told Britain's Iraq Inquiry that his contentious decision to back the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was inspired by fears of another, even deadlier, terror attack.

"It wasn't that objectively he (Saddam) had done more, it was that our perception of the risk had shifted," Blair said. "If those people inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000, they would have. From that moment Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq ... all of this had to be brought to an end.

"The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that after Sept. 11 if you were a regime engaged in WMD, you had to stop."

Clutching a sheath of documents, a tense-looking Blair sat down in a London conference center to answer questions from the Iraq Inquiry, a wide-ranging investigation commissioned by the government to scrutinize the behind-the-scenes machinations from 2001 through Britain's decision to join the costly and unpopular Iraq war.

Blair is expected to be questioned about charges that his government was so determined to topple the Iraqi dictator that they exaggerated the content of intelligence reports on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction.

He will also be pressed on when exactly he offered U.S. President George W. Bush support for an invasion - some witnesses have claimed the Briton pledged his backing as early as April 2002, more than a year before Parliament approved military intervention.

"Our questions aim to get to the heart of those issues," inquiry chairman John Chilcot said. However, he warned those hoping Blair would be given a tough time may be disappointed. "The inquiry is not a trial," Chilcot said.

An audience gathered in a central London convention center for the session included family members of soldiers and civilians killed or missing in Iraq. Commuters arriving at the Westminster underground station near the hearing center were met by several people gathering signatures for a petition urging that Blair be tried as a war criminal.

An audience gathered inside the small convention center room included family members of soldiers and civilians killed or missing in Iraq.

Blair had arrived shortly before 7:00 A.M. local time on Friday, dodging a clutch of about 150 demonstrators by entering the conference center through a cordoned-off rear entrance.

A band of about 150 protesters clustered outside shouted slogans including "Jail Tony" and "Blair lied - thousands died," as rows of police officers looked on.