This story has been updated.
Dr. Ben Carson apologized for asserting the widely discredited allegation that thousands of American Muslims had celebrated the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey. He told NBC News on Monday that he’d been thinking of celebrations captured in the Middle East — and not New Jersey.
Adding his voice to claims most recently made by Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Carson told reporters twice on Monday that he’d seen the “film” of the celebrations. When asked by NBC News specifically if he meant in New Jersey, he replied yes. Later on Monday, his campaign began walking back the comment.
“Dr. Carson does not stand by the statements that were reported today,” campaign spokesman Doug Watts said in a statement. “He was hearing and thinking something differently at the the time. He does, however, recall and had his mind focused on the celebrations in the Middle East. He is not suggesting that American Muslims were in New Jersey celebrating the fall of the twin towers.”
Watts added that “He does apologize to anybody offended by that for sure, but that was not his thinking and he is not standing behind the statement as reported.”
The allegation — widely discredited by police, local officials, and area Muslims, as well as being uncorroborated by reporters — comes as the country grapples with how to handle both the rise of terrorism and a worsening refugee crisis. Republican presidential candidates have widely protested President Barack Obama’s plan to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country next year. The 2016 hopefuls argue that there may be terrorists in their midst — a position most vocally championed by Trump, who has vowed to evict refugees if he’s elected president. For his part, Carson has compared those feeling the war in Syria to “rabid dogs.”
Obama has said candidates who disparage and vilify Muslims are doing the terrorists work for them, as ISIS says its aim is to radicalize more moderate Muslims and encourage them to chose the caliphate over Western nations.
Trump first made the remarks on Saturday at a rally, before doubling down on them in an interview on Sunday — despite being pressed about the absence of corroborating reports.
“They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down, and that tells you something. It was well covered at the time,” he said on ABC News on Sunday.
In a Tweet on Monday, Trump linked to a report that noted a police investigation into allegations of such celebrations and he called for an apology.
The author of the story said tells MSNBC that he has no reports of what Trump says he saw.
“We did a lot of shoe leather reporting in and around Jersey City and talked to a lot of residents and officials for the broader story. Much of that has, indeed, faded from memory,” the author of the story Serge Kovaleski told MSNBC. “But I do not recall anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember.”
PolitiFact found those allegations — widely circulated online and on the radio — to be false. There were celebrations overseas, however, and widely broadcast footage of them.
Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged the allegation fueled by his two Republican rivals were false.
“It’s not true and there’s plenty of fact checks to prove that it isn’t,” he said. ”As I said early in this campaign if all I did all day was respond to everything Donald Trump says that isn’t true I wouldn’t be able to run my campaign.”