MIAMI • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump ramped up his incendiary rhetoric last Saturday, claiming that Muslims around the world were "going wild" to cheer the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.
Earlier this month, the real estate tycoon invited scrutiny after saying that Arab and Muslim Americans had celebrated the terror strikes. He also voiced support for a database to track Muslims in the country. But at the weekend rally in Sarasota, Florida, Mr Trump took it a step further.
"Everybody admits that worldwide, the Muslims were absolutely going wild," Mr Trump told a crowd of supporters.
In fact, several Arab and Muslim leaders - including the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi - condemned the attacks at the time.
A 2008 Gallup poll found that only 7 per cent of Muslims around the world said the 9/11 attacks were "completely" justified and viewed the United States unfavourably.
In his speech, Mr Trump also again denied mocking a disabled New York Times reporter when he apparently imitated his jerking arm movements.
"I was very expressive in saying it and they said I was mocking him. I would never mock a person who has a disability," Mr Trump said. "I am telling you, I would never do it."
Video had shown the 69-year-old appearing to question the credentials of Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from congenital arthrogryposis, which interferes with movement of the limbs.
Mr Trump's feud with Mr Kovaleski arose from the journalist refuting the candidate's claims that Mr Kovaleski had reported there were "thousands" of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Mr Kovaleski reported for The Washington Post at the time that "law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks".
There was no indication in the article of thousands or even hundreds of Muslims cheering, as Mr Trump has claimed he had witnessed.
Nationally, a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in the five days through last Friday showed Mr Trump backed by 31 per cent of Republicans, down from a peak of 43 per cent on Nov 22. That poll had a credibility interval of 5.2 percentage points to 6.1 percentage points.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG