D.C. authorities will announce criminal charges Thursday against 12 members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail and the police force who authorities say attacked protesters outside the ambassador’s residence last month, according to two officials familiar with the case.
Authorities have scheduled an 11:45 a.m. news conference with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham. Police officials say arrest warrants have been issued and that the suspects, all believed to be in Turkey, are now wanted in the United States.
The charges come nearly a month after the clashes at Sheridan Circle along Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row. Police and other officials say various members of Erdogan’s visiting security team, some of them armed, attacked a group protesting his regime as police struggled to restore order. Bystanders recorded the confrontation with cellphones.
People injured in the May 16 attack and U.S. lawmakers have criticized the initial response, which was complicated by issues of diplomatic immunity and relations with Turkey, which is sure to be angry over the warrants. Officials at the Turkish Embassy in Washington could not be reached Wednesday evening.
Some critics were angry that police did not make more arrests on the spot. The U.S. State Department ordered a federal police agency to release two presidential guards taken into custody, saying they had diplomatic immunity.
It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether those issues have been sorted out. D.C. police said they have been working closely over the past several weeks with the State Department and the U.S. Secret Service, poring over video clips and trying to decide how to proceed.
D.C. police arrested two people at the altercation, at least one of whom identified himself as a supporter of Erdogan.
Police said Wednesday that they had arrested two additional suspects — Sinan Narin, of Virginia, who is charged with felony aggravated assault, and Eyup Yildirim, of New Jersey, who is charged with felony assault with significant bodily injury and felony aggravated assault. Narin is expected to be in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday; Yildirim was awaiting extradition from New Jersey.
Authorities declined to elaborate on the charges against Yildirim and Narin.
Turkish officials have said that security officers participated in the fracas but that they were acting in self-defense, contending that protesters started the brawl and that D.C. police refused to arrest the demonstrators. Turkey also alleged that terrorist sympathizers were among the demonstrators who had gathered on Embassy Row.
Law enforcement and legal experts have said bringing the attackers to justice could be difficult because Turkey is unlikely to extradite suspects or make them available for interviews.
On May 26, the New York Times published a video-graphic tracking 24 Erdogan supporters during the fight, including 10 it identified in photographs as members of the president’s formal security team and six dressed in khaki that the paper said were Turkish guards. Eight others were civilian supporters of Erdogan.
American officials and members of Congress have condemned the incident as an attack on peaceful demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights. Some called for the ouster of Turkey’s ambassador and for the guards being banned from returning to the United States. The State Department summoned the Turkish ambassador to file a protest.
The precise origins of the clash remain in dispute. About two dozen or so demonstrators were in Sheridan Circle outside the ambassador’s residence, where Erdogan was hosting an informal gathering.
Protesters say they were attacked by three groups affiliated with Erdogan: members of his dark-suited security team; khaki-dressed security officers who either traveled with the president or were assigned to the embassy; and civilians who back the regime.
One video shows a man lean into a car where Erdogan was sitting outside the residence, then signal to another man who then heads toward the protesters. Things quickly become chaotic, and other videos show more dark-suited men, some carrying furled red Turkish flags, kicking and punching protesters — some in the head as they lay prone on the ground — as D.C. police try to intercede. At one point, Erdogan emerges from the car and watches the scene.
At least 11 people were injured, including a police officer. Police finally separated the two sides and pushed the security personnel back toward the residence.
Protesters complained that police were protecting Turkish officials and reacted to the violence with too light a hand. Turkey issued several statements, the first of which blamed D.C. police for allowing the protest and said its security personnel felt compelled to shut it down absent any action from local authorities against people it called terrorists.
Turkey then blamed the protesters for instigating the fight, saying one threw a water bottle at a Turkish guard, hitting him in the head. Turkey also said that some or many of the protesters were affiliated with the separatist Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States. Protesters denied the allegation.