Donald Trump has tacitly endorsed the far right Marine Le Pen for president of France, saying she is the “strongest” of the candidates.
While the president tried to maintain he was not endorsing the National Front leader ahead of Sunday’s elections, he called her the “strongest on borders”, adding: “She’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”
He added Thursday’s terror attack in Paris, in which a police officer was shot dead on the Champs Elysees, would “probably help” Le Pen at the polls.
Trump said: “Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.”
After that attack, which the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for, Le Pen called for borders to be “immediately” strengthened.
She said: “Islamism is a monstrous totalitarian ideology that has declared war on our nation, on reason, on civilisation.”
Her party advocates France’s withdrawal from the EU and has been condemned for xenophobia and hostility to Islam.
Le Pen recently caused outrage by saying France was not responsible for the mass rounding up of French Jews, most of whom were murdered in concentration camps, during the Nazi occupation.
Trump made his remarks on Friday in an interview with The Associated Press, which said the president maintained he was “not explicitly endorsing Le Pen”.
He denied he was “worried about emboldening terrorists by saying an attack can have an impact on a democratic election”, AP reported.
Le Pen was the only candidate for French presidency to back Trump for US president.
On Thursday, Barack Obama spoke with Emmanuel Macron, the pro-EU, centrist candidate.
He is leading most opinion polls for the election’s first round on Sunday, which will select the two candidates to contest the second-round run-off on May 7, which is expected to pit him against Le Pen.
Le Pen’s popularity has dismayed Europe’s liberals, who fear a rise of the Populist Right in elections across the continent in The Netherlands, France and Germany.
She has previously described Trump’s election as a “sign of hope” for politicians like her.
“Donald Trump has made possible what was presented as completely impossible,” she told CNN in November.