Trump backs surveillance of mosques despite criticism of rhetoric

(Reuters) - Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday called for surveillance of mosques as part of U.S. law enforcement efforts to prevent terrorism, and stood by his remarks on banning Muslim immigrants, which others in his party have criticized.

Trump repeated his call for a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States after a U.S.-born Muslim, the son of Afghan immigrants, fatally shot 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando early on Sunday.

The New York real estate developer said that while the Florida gunman was born in the United States, “his parents weren’t and his ideas weren’t born here.”

“We have to maybe check, respectfully, the mosques and we have to check other places because this is a problem that, if we don’t solve it, it’s going to eat our country alive,” Trump said at a rally in Atlanta.

Trump had called for surveillance of mosques in November, as well as a database of Syrian refugees entering the United States.

The Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, is believed by authorities to have acted alone, inspired by radical ideology he was exposed to over the internet.

“Any kind of extremism and violence is not preached in American mosques,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “In fact, research has shown that mosques are a moderating influence on individuals who attend.”

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Prominent Republicans this week distanced themselves from Trump’s comments about Muslims.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday he did not think a ban on the entry of Muslims was in U.S. interests. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who ran against Trump for the Republican nomination and has been a fierce critic since, said that he was “unnerved” by Trump’s response.

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said on Wednesday that Trump’s rhetoric had grown “even more inflammatory” in recent days. She said the United States counts on Muslim communities in the U.S. and partners in majority-Muslim countries to help fight terrorism.

“Not one of Donald Trump’s reckless ideas would have saved a single life in Orlando,” Clinton said at an event for U.S. military families in Virginia.

Trump on Monday proposed that the United States suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is “a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies until we fully understand how to end these threats.” He also said radical Muslims were entering the country amid a flood of refugees and “trying to take over our children.”

Trump’s hard-line proposals on immigration have contributed to his popularity among some conservative voters. But they have also triggered condemnation from minority and human rights activists and his political opponents, many of whom have called his rhetoric racist.

The New York businessman also said in Atlanta he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if he came to the United States, and he dismissed the controversy he caused in May when he said in a Reuters interview he would be willing to speak to Kim.

“If he came here, I’d accept him. But I wouldn’t give a state dinner like we do for China and all these other people that rip us off,” Trump said.

Reporting by Emily Stephenson and Amanda Becker; Editing by Will Dunham and Leslie Adler