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Why Trump warned about ‘Somali refugees’ — and why it could backfire

Donald Trump spoke to crowds in Minnesota on Nov. 6, about halting the flow of immigration. (Video: The Washington Post)

MINNEAPOLIS — Donald Trump emphasized his strict opposition to admitting refugees into the United States over concerns about terrorism as he made a closing pitch to voters in a trio of key battleground states Sunday.

While the Republican presidential nominee regularly touts his call to halt the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States, during a campaign stop in Minneapolis, he singled out Somalis, mentioning a mall stabbing rampage in the region carried out by a Somali immigrant.

Although Trump's words could resonate with conservative base in the state, particularly those with deep concerns about terrorism and the Islamic State, Minnesota has long been a Democratic stronghold in the presidential contests, meaning that Trump probably needs to win centrist and crossover voters to stand a realistic chance of victory. With his comments about minorities, refugees and immigrants having already come under heavy criticism from Democrats, he risked doing further damage to his image in the political middle and left with his latest remarks.

“Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world,” said Trump, using another name for the Islamic State.

Trump said that as president, he would not admit refugees “without the support of the local community where they are being placed.”

Dahir Adan, a Somali immigrant, went on a stabbing rampage at a St. Cloud mall in September before he was shot dead by a police officer. Trump mentioned the attack in his remarks and portrayed it as symptomatic of a larger problem.

“Everybody’s reading about the disaster taking place in Minnesota,” he said at one point.

The Twin Cities is home to the nation’s largest community of Somali immigrants. The FBI’s pursuit there of 10 young men from the Somali American community, whom they accused of conspiring to join the Islamic State and kill on its behalf, attracted national attention.

Just as he did in Minneapolis, Trump seized on fears about refugees living in Michigan at a later rally in a suburb of Detroit.

“Here in Michigan you've seen firsthand the problems caused with the refugee program. ... With large numbers of poorly vetted refugees coming into your state — without your knowledge, without your support and without your approval — it puts your security at risk and it puts enormous pressure on your schools and your community resources,” he said.

Trump mentioned refugees again later at a stop near Pittsburgh.

Khizr Khan spoke at a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Manchester, N.H. Khan made a passionate speech at the Democratic National Convention about his son, Humayun Khan, who died while serving in Iraq as a captain in the Army in 2004. (Video: The Washington Post)

Democrat Hillary Clinton campaigned in New Hampshire on Sunday with Khizr Khan, a Muslim American whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in the Iraq War. Trump attacked the Khans for criticizing him during a speech at the Democratic National Convention, drawing widespread criticism earlier in the campaign.

Trump called last year for a ban on Muslim immigrants over concerns about terrorism. While he no longer touts the proposed ban in those words on the campaign trail, preferring instead to say he is focused on blocking the flow of people from countries where terrorism has been a problem, the proposal remains on his website.

Abigail Hauslohner contributed to this report.