Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he would send back Syrian refugees taken in by the US if he was elected because they may be so-called 'Islamic State' militants in disguise.
The billionaire businessman, who is leading early opinion polls, said during an hour-long speech – which included several expletives – that he was worried the refugees, who have been fleeing their country after years of civil war, could be 'Islamic State' militants looking to get into the US.
“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration,” Mr Trump said during a rally in Keene, New Hampshire.
“If I win, they’re going back.”
Mr Trump questioned the number of men in their ranks and why Syrians were fleeing their country instead of staying and fighting.
“This could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time. A 200,000-man army, maybe,” he later added. “That could be possible.”
Millions of Syrians have been fleeing a civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011.
As many as nine million people have been displaced, including more than four million who have fled the country, according to the United Nations.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced earlier this month that the US would significantly increase the number of migrants it takes in over the next two years, with 85,000 refugees from around the world allowed in next year and up to 100,000 in 2017.
He said that is as many as the US can handle given post-September 11 screening requirements and a lack of resources. Other countries, such as Germany, are accepting far more.
Mr Trump repeated his support for Russia’s military involvement in Syria, the same day that Russia launched airstrikes that US defence secretary Ash Carter said appeared to have targeted areas that did not include IS militants.
He also criticised rivals Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who was holding his own event about an hour away.
“Jeb Bush is down the road. They’re expecting 125 people tonight,” Mr Trump said. His own appearance attracted more than a thousand.
Across the state in Bedford, Mr Bush took questions in front of a crowd of 250 - the second time he has held a duelling event in the state with Mr Trump.
Mr Bush said a candidate will not win by lecturing people and calling them stupid, a word Mr Trump uses frequently on the trail.
Later, asked by reporters about Mr Trump’s comments on Syrian refugees, Mr Bush said he should show “some sensitivity” to something that is a “serious challenge”.
“We have an obligation to make sure that people coming here are legitimate, but send them all back? To a hellhole?” he said.
“This is the same guy, by the way, that’s also advocating what seems to be support of Putin and his emergence in Syria.”