Donald Trump's call for closing America's door to Muslims is opening a window of opportunity for groups like ISIS, counter-terrorism experts and human rights advocates say.
The Republican presidential candidate's controversial proposal for barring all Muslims from entering the United States is being used by the head-chopping fanatics and other terrorist groups like al Qaeda to attract recruits by painting the land of the free as opposed to Islam, experts told NBC News on Tuesday.
"They love him from the sense that he is supporting their rhetoric," said Rita Katz with the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the social media activities of Islamic terrorist groups.
"They follow everything Donald Trump says," she noted. "When he says, 'No Muslims should be allowed in America,' they tell people, 'We told you America hates Muslims and here is proof.'"
David Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-Building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, said Trump's comments "undermine efforts to drain the swamp of support for radical Islamists by stoking rage that inspires jihad against the West."
"Trump's incendiary anti-Muslim comments will surely be used by ISIS social media to demonize the United States and attract recruits to fight in Iraq and Syria," Phillips added. "His comments may also stir debate in countries with large Muslim populations about joining a U.S.-led" drive against ISIS.
Nobody has been more critical of Trump's anti-Muslim broadsides than the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group.
"We firmly believe that Donald Trump is doing the work of ISIS," said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.
Trump's comments "unde
rmine efforts to drain the swamp of support for radical Islamists by stoking rage that inspires jihad against the West."
In response to the criticism, Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman from the Trump campaign, referred a reporter to an ABC News interview earlier Tuesday in which the candidate defended his proposal to temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the U.S. — but did not directly address whether he was fueling the fanatics' fire.
"I don't have anything on that but I think he answered those questions already," Hicks said.
Earlier, a self-made Arab billionaire told NBC News he regretted backing Trump earlier in the campaign. Khalaf al Habtoor said he was shocked by Trump's comments, which the tycoon defended Tuesday as "common sense."
"He is creating a hatred between Muslims and the United States of America," al Habtoor said.
Extremists like ISIS "will thank Mr. Trump for his comments," he added.