, WASHINGTON, Dec 8 – Republican frontrunner Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, unleashing some of the most provocative and divisive remarks of his controversial presidential campaign.
The stunning statement followed last week’s mass shooting in California by a Muslim couple believed to have been radicalised by extremists, and landed with a thunderclap just as fellow presidential candidates were contemplating ways to improve national security.
His aides did not specify if the proposal would affect both tourists and immigrants, and also did not say if it would target American Muslims currently abroad.
In a rambling, 50-minute speech aboard the USS Yorktown later Monday, Trump read part of his statement aloud, hardening the tone and saying the halt on Muslims entering the country should remain in place “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
“We have no choice,” Trump said, warning that Islamist radicals want to kill Americans.
“It’s going to get worse and worse. We’re going to have more World Trade Centers,” he said, referring to the deadly attacks on September 11, 2001.
Protesters interrupted his speech at least three times, with a visibly frustrated Trump criticising what he described as poor security at the event.
Trump drew swift condemnation by presidential rivals and the White House, which denounced his call to bar Muslims as “totally contrary” to US values.
“We have, in our Bill of Rights, respect for the freedom of religion,” said one of President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy aides, Ben Rhodes.
Trump’s campaign cites poll data allegedly showing “hatred toward Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.”
“Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine,” the billionaire real estate mogul, who is leading in opinion polls among likely Republican voters, said in the statement.
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
Trump has been increasingly virulent in his remarks targeting Muslim Americans since the deadly Paris attacks, and again in the wake of last week’s shooting rampage in California, which left 14 dead and 21 wounded.
Last month, he caused a furor when he claimed he saw “thousands and thousands of people” cheering in parts of New Jersey with substantial Arab-American populations as the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11.
But his latest statement was particularly jarring, and it unleashed severe condemnation on Twitter, including from other Republicans running for president.