United States President Donald Trump on Friday signed an executive order restricting the entry of refugees into the country for four months and those from Syria indefinitely. It was dome in an attempt to prevent “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the country. The four-month curb is specific to seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – AP reported.

Trump announced the move while addressing a gathering at the inauguration of his Secretary of Defence James Mattis. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” he said. He said the decree – titled “Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” – would give Washington time to set up a stricter “vetting procedure” to screen people from countries with terrorism ties. He had earlier said citizens of countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan would undergo “extreme vetting”.

“We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country,” Trump said. In an interview with CBN News, Trump said persecuted Christians would be given priority in applying for refugee status. “We are going to help them [Syrian Christians seeking refuge]. They’ve been horribly treated,” Trump told the TV channel.

The new order immediately halts a US programme that allows for the relocation of people displaced by war, political oppression, hunger and religious prejudice to the United States. The 2016 initiative had benefited around 85,000 people that year and was expanded by the Barack Obama administration to include 1,10,000 refugees in 2017. Exceptions during the freeze may be made on a case-to-case basis, officials said.

In an interview with ABC News, Trump said that while countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan had been excluded from the list, their citizens would undergo “extreme vetting”. Referring to the involvement of a Pakistani-origin couple in the San Bernardino attack, Trump said, “I don’t want terror in this country. You look at what happened in San Bernardino. You look at what happened all over. You look at what happened in the World Trade Center.”

He dismissed queries about the move triggering anger among the Muslim community in the country. “There’s plenty of anger right now. How can you have more?” Trump said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it would file a lawsuit to challenge the validity of the order. “There is no evidence that refugees – the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation – are a threat to national security,” said Lena F Masri, the council’s national litigation director. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticised Trump’s extreme stance on the refugee matter. On Twitter, Albright said, “I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian and found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in solidarity.”