WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Hillary Clinton cast herself Monday as the most qualified to combat terrorism in the U.S. after a weekend of violent attacks in three states. Going after rival Donald Trump, she argued that his anti-Muslim rhetoric is helping Islamic militants, including ISIS, recruit new fighters.
The Democratic presidential candidate touted her national security credentials at a hastily arranged news conference outside her campaign plane, accusing Republican Trump for using the incidents to make “some kind of demagogic point.”
“I’m the only candidate in this race who’s been part of the hard decisions to take terrorists off the battlefield,” Clinton, a former secretary of state, told reporters. “I have sat at that table in the Situation Room.”
She added: “I know how to do this.”
New York’s governor and mayor said Monday that the bombings in a Manhattan neighborhood and a New Jersey shore town are looking increasingly like acts of terrorism with a foreign connection. Authorities are also investigating the stabbings of nine people at a Minnesota mall as a possible act of terrorism.
An Afghan immigrant wanted for questioning in the bombings was captured in New Jersey Monday after being wounded in a gun battle with police, authorities said.
The violence cast a long shadow over the presidential race, diverting both candidates’ attention from the daily controversies of the presidential race.
Clinton and her team see her foreign policy experience as a key selling point for her candidacy. On the campaign trail, she frequently invokes her role in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, describing to voters the tense atmosphere in the White House alongside President Barack Obama.
But while much of the foreign policy establishment has rallied around Clinton, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, promises to close U.S. borders and vows to aggressively profile potential terrorists have fueled his presidential bid.
“Knock the hell out of ’em,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” in a phone interview Monday morning.
“We’re not knocking them, we’re hitting them once in a while; we’re hitting them in certain places. We’re being very gentle about it. We’re going to have to be very tough,” Trump told Fox News Channel.”
He said that U.S. leaders, including Obama, “coddle” potential terrorists.
Trump once again took credit for predicting current events, pointing to his Saturday night announcement that a bomb had caused the explosion in New York City. That was less than an hour after the explosion and before authorities had publicly said so.
Clinton urged voters not to “get diverted and distracted by the kind of campaign rhetoric we hear from the other side.” She insinuated that Islamic militants, particularly those affiliated with ISIS, are rooting for Trump to win the White House. The Republican has said he would bar immigration from nations with ties to terrorism.
“We’re going after the bad guys and we’re going to get them, but we’re not going to go after an entire religion,” Clinton said.
Clinton briefly turned her focus from national security on Monday, wooing younger voters at a midday rally at a Philadelphia university. Her campaign acknowledges she needs to do more to get millennials on board.
She’s scheduled to meet with the leaders of Egypt, Ukraine and Japan late in the day in New York City. The leaders are in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. Trump, too, announced plans to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Monday.
The events came as both candidates were dealing with missteps. Trump and his allies spent Sunday — repeatedly and falsely — accusing Clinton of pushing the idea that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. — a conspiracy theory long championed by Trump himself.
Clinton, meanwhile, is still facing questions about her health and openness after a video caught her staggering after abruptly leaving a 9/11 ceremony.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report from New York.
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