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Police arrest two ‘potential suspects’ in Jussie Smollett attack probe

The developments came after a flurry of US media reports that detectives were looking into the possibility that the attack was staged.

FILE: US television actor Jussie Smollett. Picture: AFP.

CHICAGO - Two “potential suspects” were under arrest and being interrogated in the probe of a black, openly gay US television actor’s report that he was assaulted in a hate crime, police said on Friday.

Actor Jussie Smollett, of the television program Empire, reported the late-night incident to police on 29 January.

The 36-year-old said two men beat him while he was walking on the streets of downtown Chicago at around 2.00am, and yelled racial and homophobic slurs. He said the two had also poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck.

Chicago police said on Friday they had arrested two “potential suspects” who were being interrogated for a second day, accompanied by their attorney.

“Detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime,” police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said.

The developments came after a flurry of US media reports that detectives were looking into the possibility that the attack was staged.

But Guglielmi told AFP in an emailed statement: “There is no evidence to say that this is a hoax. The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect.”

Multiple US media outlets reported that the two men are brothers who were arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport upon return from a trip to Nigeria. At least one of the men reportedly worked on Empire, a series about the fortunes of an ailing hip-hop mogul and his family battling over control of a multi-million-dollar music company.

Police in late January released surveillance images of two men they considered persons of interest in the case. But they have found no video of the attack itself.

SMOLLETT DETAILS ATTACK

In an emotional interview with ABC’s Good Morning America broadcast on Thursday, Smollett gave the most detailed account yet of what had happened and said he was angry at doubts of his veracity.

Smollett said a masked man yelled Empire as the 36-year-old actor was walking through an intersection after a late-night stop at a sandwich shop. He was on the phone with his manager at the time.

“It’s Chicago in winter. People can wear ski masks and nobody’s going to question that,” Smollett said.

After he ignored the man, Smollett said the attacker yelled out a racial slur and used Donald Trump’s campaign slogan acronym “MAGA,” which stands for “Make America Great Again.”

Smollett said the man called Chicago “MAGA country” and then punched him in the face, at which point the actor fought with the attacker, and was kicked by a second man he had not noticed earlier.

“It felt like minutes, but it was probably like 30 seconds, honestly,” Smollett said.

He was not seriously injured aside from bruises and said he had initially hesitated to report the incident out of concern for his privacy.

The actor expressed anger over rumours and speculation reported in the media doubting his account, including that it was a date gone wrong.

“It’s offensive. And I absolutely resent that narrative,” Smollett said.

“It feels like if I had said [his attacker] was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more.”

The initial reports of the attack shocked the entertainment industry and brought waves of support from advocacy groups.

Members of the “Empire” production team and cast, as well as the studio that produces the program, spoke out in support of the actor, as did the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

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