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Omar says increase in death threats since Trump tweeted about her speech

White House defends Trump against accusations he was inciting violence against Muslim congresswoman
Omar thanks police, FBI, House Sergeant at Arms and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for their attention to death threats (AFP)

Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said late Sunday in a statement that since President Donald Trump tweeted about a speech she gave last month on Islamophobia, she has experienced an increase in death threats.

Earlier on Sunday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump against accusations that he was inciting violence against the Muslim congresswoman after he tweeted a video of her speaking, spliced with footage of the 9/11 attacks.

Omar said: "Since the President's tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life - many directly referencing or replying to the President's video. I thank the Capitol Police, the FBI, the House Sergeant at Arms, and the Speaker of the House for their attention to these threats," as quoted by CNN.

She has been at the centre of an escalating row since the speech last month, after which she was accused by Republicans of downplaying the deadliest attacks on US soil by characterising the event as "some people did something", AFP said.

Trump on Friday tweeted a video that juxtaposed the snippet, to a backdrop of menacing music, with images of the destruction wrought by the hijacked planes slamming into the Twin Towers that once dominated New York's skyline.

The clip, which has been viewed more than nine million times as of Sunday, ends with the words: "SEPTEMBER 11 2001 WE REMEMBER."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday she had spoken with the House Sergeant at Arms about Omar's safety and that she wanted to make sure a security assessment was being conducted.

Prominent Democrats including Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Omar's fellow first-time Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have rushed to Omar's defence, accusing the president and other Republicans of deliberately taking her remarks out of context and endangering her life.

Fellow first-term lawmaker Ocasio-Cortez was one of the first to speak up, saying that members of Congress “have a duty to respond to the President’s explicit attack today.” Omar’s “life is in danger” and for lawmakers “to be silent is to be complicit in the outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress”, as quoted by Slate on its website.

Many of those who spoke up were presidential hopefuls, including Bernie Sanders, who said that “the disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end”, according to Slate. Warren characterised Trump’s effort to incite “violence against a sitting Congresswoman - and an entire group of Americans based on their religion” as “disgusting” and “shameful”. O’Rourke also joined in and said the president’s tweet amounted to an “incitement to violence” against Omar.

Still, Sarah Sanders defended Trump on Sunday, telling ABC news: "The president is wishing no ill will and certainly not violence towards anyone."

But, she added: "The president is absolutely and should be calling out the congresswoman for her not only one-time but history of anti-Semitic comments."

Sanders was referencing a controversy sparked last month by Omar speaking out against the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby group in US politics.

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Top Democratic presidential candidates came to Omar’s defence then also, MEE reported at the time, issuing statements denouncing Islamophobic attacks against Omar and highlighting the distinction between anti-Semitism and criticising Israel.

Omar has mounted her own trenchant fightback against Trump, tweeting on Saturday: "No one person – no matter how corrupt, inept, or vicious – can threaten my unwavering love for America.

"I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans."

The controversy arose after Omar delivered a 20-minute address to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) shortly after the New Zealand mosque attacks in March.

"For far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I'm tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it," she said.

"CAIR was founded after 9/11," she added, "because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties."

CAIR was founded in 1994 and Omar’s spokesman recognised the lawmaker misspoke and meant to say that the organisation doubled in size after the attacks, Slate reported.

Last week, Trump and Fox News came under fire for contributing to a climate of Islamophobia after the arrest of a supporter of the president who threatened to kill Omar. A 55-year-old New York man was arrested and charged with threatening to murder her, federal prosecutors said.