Ex-Obama aide held over anti-Muslim abuse at NYC halal cart vendor

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Police have held an ex-US State Department aide who allegedly spewed anti-Muslim abuse at a New York City food vendor.

Stuart Seldowitz has acknowledged in media interviews that he is the man seen in a viral video calling the vendor a “terrorist”.

He alleged the individual had provoked him by expressing support for Hamas.

The halal cart man, named in reports as Mohamed Hussein, denied to media he made any comments in favour of Hamas.

A New York Police Department spokesperson confirmed to the BBC that Mr Seldowitz had been taken into custody on Wednesday, but said details of any charges were not immediately available.

The BBC has attempted to contact Mr Seldowitz for comment. In the viral videos, he is seen at the food truck at different times of day.

In one clip he says: “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what, it wasn’t enough.”

In another interaction, viewed more than 40 million times, according to X, formerly known as Twitter, he calls the vendor “ignorant”, suggests his family could be tortured by the Egyptian secret police and makes inflammatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran.

During another encounter, a bystander is heard saying: “You’re harassing this man.”

Mr Seldowitz says, referring to the food truck vendor: “He likes killing Jews.”

He had a long career in the US Department of State, including in the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, and was a White House National Security Council director under President Barack Obama.

The Daily Beast reported on Tuesday that Mr Seldowitz had confirmed it was him in the clips.

“The bottom line is, yes, it’s me,” the outlet quoted him as saying.

He said he thought “there should be some comment back to someone who is endorsing terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians”.

In an interview with City & State, Mr Seldowitz was quoted as saying: “I regret the whole thing happened and I’m sorry.

“But you know, in the heat of the moment, I said things that probably I shouldn’t have said.”

Mr Seldowitz formerly worked for a lobbying company, Gotham Government Relations, which said in a statement on Tuesday that his actions were “vile, racist and beneath the dignity of the standards we practice at our firm”.

A press release issued by the company in November 2022 called him the firm’s “Foreign Affairs Chair”.

But David Schwartz, Gotham’s founder and president, said that Mr Seldowitz hadn’t done any work for the firm for about five years and that the title was an honorary one.

“I am incensed, I am outraged, and I am beyond words,” Mr Schwartz told the BBC.

“This is not the person that I knew, he was very intelligent, he was honoured by the state department and won three awards.

“But when I saw that video, within seconds I knew we had to act, and I did not hesitate. We have severed all ties.”

Many New Yorkers have expressed support on social media for Mr Hussein, the food truck vendor.

New York Mayor Eric Adams posted on X: “Islamophobia is hate. Plain and simple.

“This vile, disrespectful rhetoric has no home in our city. We reject it – and we’re glad to see we’re not alone.”

Mr Hussein, originally from Egypt, told the New York Post he intended to sue Mr Seldowitz.

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