NEW YORK • US Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has come under criticism for proposing that police "patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods before they become radicalised".
Among his critics on Wednesday was President Barack Obama, who called the Texas Senator's idea "contrary to who we are".
"Any approach that would single (Muslims) out or target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American, but it also would be counter-productive," Mr Obama said in Argentina, which he was visiting after a historic trip to Cuba.
"I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighbourhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free," he said.
Mr Cruz issued his proposal on Tuesday in response to bomb attacks in Brussels that left at least 31 dead in a plot claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The ultra-conservative senator's rival for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Mr Donald Trump - who has advocated the use of torture against terrorism suspects - backed Mr Cruz's proposal, calling it "a good idea".
Meanwhile, the front runner for the Democratic Party's nomination, Mrs Hillary Clinton, denounced Mr Cruz's proposal as "dangerous" and "counter-productive".
AGAINST THE GRAIN
Any approach that would single (Muslims) out or target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American, but it also would be counter-productive. I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighbourhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, referring to his recent visit to Cuba.
"It's hard to imagine a more incendiary, foolish statement," she said in California, where she was campaigning. "One thing we know that does not work is offensive, inflammatory rhetoric that demonises all Muslims," she added, calling Muslims a "first line of defence" against terrorism.
Mr John Kasich, who is running in third place in the Republican race, also denounced Mr Cruz's remarks, saying: "The last thing we need is more polarisation."
New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton was among the proposal's most vocal critics. "He doesn't know the hell what he is talking about," Mr Bratton told CBS News, saying the city's police force includes nearly 1,000 Muslims. He added: "Ironically, when he is running around here, we probably have a few Muslim officers guiding him."
There is little love lost between New Yorkers and Mr Cruz, who was in the city on Wednesday meeting supporters. The candidate had already incensed residents in January by disparaging what he called "New York values", and had previously tangled with Mayor Bill de Blasio over police reform.
Mr Cruz on Wednesday blasted Mr de Blasio for dropping a secretive surveillance programme enacted by former mayor Michael Bloomberg after the Sept 11 attacks. Known as the Demographics Unit, the programme deployed plainclothes police officers to eavesdrop on Muslim communities by circulating in mosques, shops and elsewhere to compile files detailing residents' habits.
The highly controversial programme became the subject of two federal lawsuits.
"It's not surprising that the Democratic political henchmen of Mayor de Blasio are coming after me," Mr Cruz said on CBS. "Yesterday, we saw a horrific terror attack in Brussels," he added. "It was not a lone wolf. It wasn't an isolated attack. It was radical Islamic terrorism and it was (ISIS) that has declared jihad and is waging war on us."
Asked if he knew the number of Muslims in the United States - some 3.3 million - however, he admitted not knowing.
The Muslim advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations has called Mr Cruz's policing proposal "fascist-like", asking him to "retract and apologise for his unconstitutional policy proposal".