Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has come under fire for mocking a disabled New York Times reporter during a speech in South Carolina

Trump appeared to imitate Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from arthrogryposis - a congenital condition that affects joint movement - during a speech to his supporters on Tuesday night.

"Now, the poor guy - you've got to see this guy, 'Ah, I don't know what I said! I don't remember!'" Trump said, as he made a crude impersonation of what he felt someone who had a condition that affected their joints would look and sound like.

Al Jazeera's Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, said the incident stemmed from one of Trump's claims that he had witnessed thousands of people celebrating on the banks of New Jersey as the World Trade Center was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"To bolster his claim he used a report in the Washington Post [written by Kovaleski, who worked for the newspaper at the time] that did say police were investigating allegations of celebrations in New Jersey on that day," Rattansi said.

Kovaleski has said since that he does not remember thousands of people celebrating, "and that's what drew the ire of Trump, who then at his campaign rally mocked the reporter, and did an impersonation of how he felt the reporter comes across," Rattansi said.

Various local officials in New Jersey said in the weeks following the September 11 attacks that no celebrations ever took place, Rattansi said.

"According to a former governor of New Jersey - who also sat on the September 11 commission - yes, there were rumours that there were celebrations but these were all checked out and none of them proved true," he said.


RELATED: Islamophobia of US candidates hits '9/11 hysteria'


Following Trump's impersonation, Kovaleski said he was not surprised by the businessman's behaviour.

"The sad part about it is, it didn't in the slightest bit jar, or surprise me, that Donald Trump would do something this low-rent, given his track record," he was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the New York Times told news site Politico that "it's outrageous that he [Trump] would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters".

Trump's campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has been dominated by controversial comments he has made.

The 69-year-old property mogul, who has insulted Muslims, refugees, Mexicans and blacks on a number of occasions, was widely criticised last week after saying that he wanted a database to track Muslims in the US.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies