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Outspoken TV host Bill Maher has come under fire from One Direction fans for his joke about Zayn Malik.HBO

Bill Maher has been targeted by fans of Zayn Malik after the TV comic appeared to compare the 21-year-old to a terrorist.

During his show Real Time With Bill Maher he joked about the singer's exit from One Direction during his 'New Rules' segment, making allusion to the Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Faking his disappointment following Malik's exit from the band, Maher said: "I think after everything we've been through, I at least deserve the common respect of being told face to face [that you'd quit One Direction]. Just tell me two things, Zayn. Which one in the band were you? And where were you during the Boston Marathon?"

The comments prompted fans from around the world to lambast the TV star on social media.

Ardent Directioners' began tweeting their discontent using the hashtag #RespectForZayn.

"Bill Maher, Shut up and don't call Zayn a terrorist cause you're just jealous of him #RespectForZayn," said one Twitter user.

Another wrote: "Bill maher, you're disrespectful and as a Muslim and a zayn fan I'm offended #RespectForZayn #RespectForAllMuslims"

Maher, who is known for courting controversy with his bold approach, was also accused of 'islamophobia' for his derisory comments.

Outraged fans have started a change.org petition, demanding that Maher apologise for the joke about Malik.

"Bill Maher publicly not only insulted but also discriminated against Zayn Malik with an islamophobic terrorist joke. Bill Maher and whoever wrote the script, need to be severely disciplined and at least apologise to show that this type of behaviour is never ok."

The petition currently has more than 1,600 signatures.

The pop star from Bradford sensationally quit the band during their On The Road gain tour claiming that he wants to live a normal life.

He initially withdrew from the band's tour in the wake of allegations from several women that he had cheated on his fiancée, Little Mix singer Perrie Edwards, and announced he was quitting the boy band shortly afterwards.

In their first interview since Malik's exit, the remaining members; Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles and Niall Horan have said they were "gutted" when Zayn quit the band, but are determined to continue as a four-piece.

The five singers first met on The X Factor where they were brought together by pop impresario Simon Cowell to form what has become the biggest British pop band in the world.