US President Barack Obama paid tribute Wednesday to fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who in Rio will become the first US Olympian to compete wearing a hijab, the headscarf of Muslim women.

Obama's visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque, his first to a US mosque after seven years in the White House, was to hit back at anti-Islamic sentiment even as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has demanded a ban on Muslim immigrants and frontrunner Ted Cruz has advocated Christian-only admissions.

Into this atmosphere comes Muhammad, an African-American women's sabre fencer who has clinched a berth in August's Rio de Janeiro Olympics after a third-place finish in Athens last weekend at a World Cup event.

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