"Families are enraged," Bill Doyle, who is active in several September 11 family groups, said. "What I think is distasteful is that the president is trying to use 9/11 as a springboard for his re-election."

"It's entirely wrong. He's had 3,500 deaths on his watch, including Iraq," said Doyle, whose 25-year-old son Joseph died in the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

However, Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican who was mayor of New York when the attacks occurred, issued a statement through the Bush-Cheney campaign defending the ads.

"His leadership on that day is central to his record and his continued leadership is critical to our ultimate success against world terrorism," Giuliani said.

Controversial commercials

Two ads refer to the hijacked airliner attacks that killed about 3,000 as the Bush campaign seeks to present him as a leader. One ad shows World Trade Centre ruins behind an American flag. Another shows firefighters removing the flag-draped remains of a victim.

"What I think is distasteful is that the president is trying to use 9/11 as a springboard for his re-election"

Bill Doyle, 
father of a 9/11 victim

Ron Willett of Missouri, who lost his 29-year-old son in the attacks, said he was disgusted when he saw the ads. "I would vote for Saddam Hussein before I would vote for Bush."

"It think it is an atrocity," his wife Lucy, added. "He should not be allowed to use those images at all."

The International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed the campaign for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, denounced the ads as "hypocrisy at its worst."

"I am disappointed but not surprised that the president would try to trade on the heroism of those fire fighters," the union's general president Harold Schaitberger said.