WASHINGTON -- Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said yesterday that President Bush's decision to send troops to Iraq appears to have contributed to the bombing deaths of 201 people in Spain.
A growing international investigation is focusing on Islamic militants possibly linked to Al Qaeda as those responsible for the Madrid train bombings on Thursday.
European intelligence agencies are trying to identify a purported Al Qaeda operative who claimed in a videotape that the group carried out the bombings to punish Spain for backing the US-led war in Iraq.
Dean referred to the videotape when asked whether he was linking US troops in Iraq to the deaths in Spain.
"That was what they said in the tape," Dean said. "They made that connection, I'm simply repeating it."
Dean made the remarks during a conference call with reporters as he was defending his former rival John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, from a Bush campaign ad. The ad accused Kerry of turning his back on US soldiers fighting in Iraq.
Dean said it is the president who has not supported the troops. He said Bush sent soldiers to Iraq unequipped, misled the country on the reasons for war, and made the United States less safe by focusing on a target that wasn't a threat.
And, he said, "The president was the one who dragged our troops to Iraq, which apparently has been a factor in the death of 200 Spaniards over the weekend."
Dean issued a statement later to The Associated Press that said, "Let me be clear, there is no justification for terrorism. Today I was simply repeating what those who have claimed responsibility for the bombings in Spain said was the reason they carried out that despicable act."
Dean was speaking on a conference call arranged by Kerry's campaign. Campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter reiterated Dean's clarification of his remarks and added,
"It's clear that what happened in Spain is a painful reminder that the war on terror is far from over," said said, "and the nation would be better off if this administration took the time to rebuild our alliances rather than engaging in political attacks."