WASHINGTON: US authorities on Thursday announced arrest warrants had been issued for 12 members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail for assaulting protesters in Washington last month, sparking a furious response from the Turkish leader.
Erdogan said the United States had no right to arrest his guards, who he said were protecting him from “terrorists.”
The Turkish foreign ministry officially “invited” the US ambassador in for discussions after the announcement.
But Washington held that Erdogan’s security detail had no justification to attack the small group of Kurdish and Armenian protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on May 16, just after Erdogan met with President Donald Trump at the White House.
Nine people were injured, with several going to the hospital for treatment of head injuries, broken teeth, deep cuts and bruises.
The charges against the 12, along with six other Turkish-Americans and Turkish-Canadians who joined the melee, “send a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
Erdogan lashed back, accusing US police of having allowed “terrorists” to protest “50 meters from me” during his US visit.
“Why would I bring my guards with me to the United States, if not to protect me?” he said in a speech in Ankara, adding that US police “did nothing.”
“We will fight politically and judicially” against the warrants, he added.
The 12 men named in the warrants were identified in detailed video footage of the assault, said Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham. The men, all Turkish citizens, include nine Erdogan security guards and three Turkish police.
The violence erupted in broad daylight in Washington’s diplomatic quarter, just minutes after Erdogan arrived at the ambassador’s residence from the White House.
Video of the fracas shows Turkish security aides beating demonstrators and kicking those some on the ground repeatedly in the head.
The State Department lodged a formal protest with Ankara over the incident at the time, registering its concern in the “strongest possible terms.”
In a charging document presented in court Thursday against Sinan Narin, one of four Turkish-Americans already arrested in the case, Washington police detective Victor DePeralta called the incident a “vicious attack.”
Shortly after Erdogan’s limousine pulled up, his security officers and supporters rushed across the street at the protesters “in a nearly simultaneous, coordinated throng,” the detective said.
“Members of the Turkish security detail were seen speaking with each other and touching communication devices seconds before the rush,” he said.
The protesters, he said, “were not physically aggressive in any way, nor were they even physically proximate to the pro-Erdogan contingent.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser condemned the violence strongly on Thursday, saying it violated the constitutional right to peaceful protest.
“We host millions of people who come to the seat of their government to protest peacefully. We support them, we make sure that they are safe, but we also make sure that they follow our law,” Bowser said at a press conference.
“Anyone traveling to the United States will be held to that same standard,” she said.
Newsham did not explain how police expected to arrest the 12, given their location in Turkey and possible diplomatic protections. He said the State Department would determine how to execute the warrants.