Erdogan’s guards charged over beating of Washington protesters

A dozen members of Turkish president’s security detail face charges over May attack

Fighting erupted among protesters on the streets of Washington, D.C. on Tuesday (May 16), as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White house earlier in the day.

Washington prosecutors have charged a dozen Turkish security and police officers with assault after an attack on protesters during Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the US capital last month, officials said on Thursday.

The daytime brawl outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the city on May 16th left nine protesters injured and strained US-Turkish relations. A video posted online showed men in dark suits chasing protesters and punching and kicking them as Washington police struggled to intervene.

“I condemn this attack,” mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters at a news conference announcing the charges. “It was an affront to our values.”

Arrest warrants for the members of Mr Erdogan's security detail have been issued, Metropolitan Police Department chief Peter Newsham said. "If they attempt to enter the United States, they will be arrested," he said.


Mr Newsham said there was no probable cause to arrest Mr Erdogan, who watched the confrontation unfold from a nearby car.

A total of 18 people have been charged in the incident. They include two Canadians and four Americans, according to prosecutors. Two men were arrested on Wednesday. Sinan Narin of Virginia faces a charge of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanour assault, and Eyup Yildirim of New Jersey faces two charges of felony assault and a misdemeanour assault charge.

Some additional suspects still have not been identified, the police chief said.

Coming almost a month after the incident, the charges are the most significant retaliatory step taken to date by US authorities, who have fumed privately and publicly over what they see as a highly offensive attack on free speech – not to mention US law enforcement.

Lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill, as well as a smattering of advocacy groups, have clamoured for those responsible for the assault to be prosecuted. Last week, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution condemning the attack and calling for charges against the security forces.

One of those lawmakers, Republican Edward Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed news of the charges, urging the state department on Wednesday to “double down” its efforts to “bring these individuals to justice”.

Diplomatic tightrope

In calibrating its response, though, the Trump administration has had to tread carefully, navigating a web of diplomatic and military concerns with a key Nato ally. The incident appears to have already stalled a proposed $1.2 million (€1.07 million) small-arms sale to Turkish security forces that was moving toward approval by the state department last month.

And then there was the added wrinkle that the entire security detail for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had left the country with him just hours after the incident. Members of the security team face several felony and misdemeanour counts, the US officials said.

It is highly unlikely that Turkey would extradite the men to the United States to face the charges, but they do face the possibility of arrest should they ever try to re-enter the country.

In a statement in the days after the incident, the Turkish embassy said that anti-Erdogan protesters had caused the violence by “aggressively provoking” Turkish-American citizens who had gathered to greet the president and who responded in self-defence. The statement did not mention the security forces.

It was not the first time Mr Erdogan's bodyguards had become violent while visiting the United States. In 2011, they took part in a fight at the United Nations that sent at least one security officer to the hospital. And last year, the police and members of Mr Erdogan's security team clashed with demonstrators outside the Brookings Institution in Washington.

More attention

But the latest case, which played out in daylight along Washington’s genteel Embassy Row, has brought a much higher level of attention. Videos streamed live from the scene (and later spread across social media) showed armed guards storming a small group of peaceful, anti-Erdogan protesters in plain sight of federal and local law enforcement officers.

A chaotic and bloody scene followed in which the guards, protesters, pro-Erdogan civilians and US law enforcement tangled on the street and in a nearby park. Nine people were eventually hospitalised, some with serious injuries.

One video shows Mr Erdogan watching the attack play out from a Mercedes-Benz sedan parked a few yards away.

Diplomatic security officers protecting the delegation also temporarily detained two members of the Turkish forces who had assaulted them, before it was determined that the guards had diplomatic status and were freed.

Reuters/New York Times service