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Investigation into alleged racial attack on actor Jussie Smollett has 'shifted': Police

Actor Jussie Smollett. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Chicago, IL, USA Feb 18, 2019, 07.47 AM (IST)

An investigation into an alleged attack on an openly gay black actor has "shifted" and police are now seeking a follow-up interview with the 'Empire' cast member, a spokesman said Sunday.

Jussie Smollett, 36, reported to police on January 29 that two men beat him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck while he walked downtown in the third-largest American city.

The announced change in direction came two days after police said that the two "potential suspects" in the attack had been released without charge and as US media outlets reported that the attack may have been staged.

"The information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.

"We've reached out to the Empire cast member's attorney to request a follow-up interview," he added.

Multiple US media outlets reported the two men are brothers who were arrested at Chicago's O'Hare airport upon their return from a trip to Nigeria. 

At least one of the men reportedly worked on "Empire," a TV series about the fortunes of a hip-hop mogul and his family battling over control of a multi-million-dollar music company. 

In an emotional interview with ABC's 'Good Morning America' broadcast Thursday, Smollett gave details of the purported attack and said he was angry at doubts about its veracity.

Smollett said a masked man yelled 'Empire' as the actor was walking through an intersection after a late-night stop at a sandwich shop.

After he ignored the man, Smollett said the attacker yelled out a racial slur and used President 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. 

Initial reports of the attack shocked the entertainment industry and brought waves of support from advocacy groups and senior politicians, including Democratic presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Story highlights

Jussie Smollett, 36, reported to police on January 29 that two men beat him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck.