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MADRID, Sept 23: Former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar on Friday defended Pope Benedict XVI’s comments about Islam, saying the pontiff had no need to apologise and asking why Muslims never did, according to newspaper reports published on Saturday.

“Why do we always have to say sorry and they never do?” Mr Aznar told a conference in the United States.

“It is interesting to note that while a lot of people in the world are asking the pope to apologise for his speech, I have never heard a Muslim say sorry for having conquered Spain and occupying it for eight centuries.”

He was referring to the Muslim conquest of much of the Iberian peninsula, which lasted from the eighth to the 15th century.

Mr Aznar, Spain’s right-wing prime minister from 1996 to 2004, took the country into the US-led invasion of Iraq, despite overwhelming public opposition.

His government was voted out of office following a terrorist attack in Madrid in March 2004, in part because of fears that his policies had made Spain more vulnerable.

Addressing Friday’s conference in Washington on ‘global threats’, Mr Aznar said: “We are living in a time of war... It’s them or us. The West did not attack Islam, it was they who attacked us.

“We must face up to an Islam that is ambitious, that is radical and that influences the Muslim world, a fundamentalist Islam that we must confront because we don’t have any choice.

“We are constantly under attack and we must defend ourselves,” he said.

“I support Ferdinand and Isabella,” he proclaimed, in reference to the medieval Catholic monarchs who drove Muslims out of Spain in 1492.

The pope sparked outrage across the Muslim world with a speech in his native Germany on Sept 12, in which he quoted a medieval Christian emperor as saying that the Islamic concept of jihad was ‘evil and inhuman’. —AFP