SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Donald Trump is now accusing President Barack Obama of founding the Islamic State group that is wreaking havoc from the Middle East to European cities.
“In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama,” Trump said Wednesday during a raucous campaign rally outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “He is the founder of ISIS.”
He repeated the allegation three more times for emphasis.
Trump also pointedly referred to the president by his full legal name: Barack Hussein Obama.
The Republican presidential nominee in the past has accused his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, of founding the militant group. Shiftingt he blame to Obama on Wednesday, he said “crooked Hillary Clinton” was actually the group’s co-founder.
As he works to keep his campaign message on track, Trump in recent days has sometimes tried to clarify controversial statements by arguing he was being misinterpreted. But given the opportunity Thursday morning to walk his statement back, Trump did the opposite.
“He was the founder, absolutely the founder,” Trump said on CNBC. “In fact he gets the — in sports, they have awards. He gets the most valuable player award.”
Trump has long blamed Obama and his former secretary of state — Clinton — for their Mideast policy. Republicans believe that the U.S. decision to leave Iraq in 2011 created a power vacuum that allowed al-Qaida in Iraq, a subsidiary of the larger terror group al-Qaida, to morph into the 30,000-strong Islamic State group that in 2014 seized a third of Syria and Iraq. The U.S. has led a coalition of a dozen Western and Arab countries in a sustained airstrike campaign — backed by Iraqi ground forces — that have cut the group in half and cost it 45 percent of its territory. Yet the group still inspires or backs terror attacks around the world.
The White House declined to comment on Trump’s accusation.
The Islamic State group began as Iraq’s local affiliate of al-Qaida, the group that attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. The group carried out massive attacks against Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, fueling tensions with al-Qaida’s central leadership. The local group’s then-leader, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in 2006 in a U.S. airstrike but is still seen as the Islamic State group’s founder.
Trump’s accusation — and his use of the president’s middle name, Hussein — echoed previous instances where he’s questioned Obama’s loyalties.
In June, when a shooter who claimed allegiance to IS killed 49 people in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, Trump seemed to suggest Obama was sympathetic to the group when he said Obama “doesn’t get it, or he gets it better than anybody understands.” In the past, Trump has also falsely suggested Obama is a Muslim or was born in Kenya, where Obama’s father was from.
The president, a Christian, was born in Hawaii.
Trump lobbed the allegation midway through his rally at a sports arena, where riled-up supporters shouted obscenities about Clinton and joined in unison to shout “lock her up.” He railed against the fact that the Orlando shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, was spotted in the crowd behind Clinton during a Monday rally in Florida, adding, “Of course he likes Hillary Clinton.”
Sitting behind Trump at his rally on Wednesday was former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned in 2006 after allegations he sent sexually suggestive messages to former House pages.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP