WASHINGTON — Two Canadian men are among more than a dozen people indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in Washington, D.C., for attacking protesters in May 2017 during a U.S. visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The indictments charge the defendants with attacking peaceful demonstrators who had gathered on May 16 outside the home of the Turkish ambassador to await Erdogan's arrival after he had met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House.
The two Canadians named in the American court document are Mahmut Sami Ellialti and Ahmet Cengizhan Dereci.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan was chosen by the Turkish people. We voted for him and we want him to be our president.
In June, police in the U.S. capital issued arrest warrants for Ellialti on charges of felony aggravated assault and felony assault with significant bodily injury and Dereci on charges of felony assault with significant bodily injury and misdemeanour assault or threatened assault in a menacing manner.
Sixteen of the defendants named in Tuesday's indictment had already been charged on June 13. Two of the defendants were arrested in June and face an initial court hearing on Sept. 7. The rest remain at large, including the two Canadians.
The pair told the CBC last year that they are staunch supporters of Erdogan and had voted to elect him.
"Recep Tayyip Erdogan was chosen by the Turkish people. We voted for him and we want him to be our president,'' Dereci said at the time.
All 19 defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, a felony punishable by a statutory maximum of 15 years in prison. Several face additional charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
Several are members of Erdogan's security detail who returned with him to Turkey, so it is unclear if any will face legal repercussions in the United States. However, they could end up being threatened with arrest if they return to the U.S. If any are still in the country, they could be expelled if Turkey refuses to waive diplomatic immunity.
Video of the protest showed security guards and some Erdogan supporters attacking a small group of protesters with their fists and feet. Men in dark suits and others were recorded repeatedly kicking one woman as she lay curled on a sidewalk. Another wrenched a woman's neck and threw her to the ground. A man with a bullhorn was repeatedly kicked in the face.
After police struggled to protect the protesters and ordered the men in suits to retreat, several of the men dodged the officers and ran into the park to continue the attacks. In all, nine people were hurt.
Police detained two members of Erdogan's security detail, but released them shortly afterward. Two other men were arrested at the scene — one was charged with aggravated assault and the other was charged for assaulting a police officer.
American officials strongly criticized Turkey's government and Erdogan's security forces for the violence; the State Department summoned Turkey's U.S. ambassador to complain. The Turkish Foreign Ministry then summoned America's ambassador to protest the treatment of the detained security guards.
Turkey's official Anadolu news agency said at the time that Erdogan's security team moved in to disperse the protesters because "police did not heed to Turkish demands to intervene." The Turkish Embassy claimed the demonstrators were "aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens who had peacefully assembled to greet the president.
— With files from The Canadian Press