Nineteen people, fifteen of whom are members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail, were indicted by a grand jury in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, August 29. They are variously charged with aggravated assault, assault with a dangerous weapon (a shod foot), conspiracy to commit violence, and a hate crime. Those charges stem from the Turkish president’s visit to the United States in May, when members of his security detail attacked a group of protesters who had gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington.

In concluding that defendants had committed hate crimes, the grand jury found that they had attacked the protesters because of “their aversion towards a group of persons who oppose Mr. Erdogan, support pro-Kurdish political parties” and had “demonstrated [] prejudice based on the actual or perceived ethnicity and political affiliation” of the individuals assaulted. 

After the attack in May, the Turkish embassy in Washington released a statement claiming security officials had acted in “self-defense” against members of the PKK, a Kurdish guerilla organization that is classified as a terrorist group by both Turkey and the United States. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also released a statement in reaction to the indictment, repeating the same denials and claiming that some of the named defendants had never actually been to the United States. The ministry did not, however, specify which of the accused security officials it was referring to.

Even though these events all occurred after Donald Trump took office, the Turkish government is doing its best to avoiding blaming the current administration. Commenting on the indictment on Friday, President Erdogan called it a “scandal,” and blamed holdovers from the Obama administration for perpetrating the so-called injustice against Turkey.

Two of the defendants, who live in the United States, were identified and arrested shortly after the incident. Other indicted security officials are unlikely to be extradited from Turkey, but risk arrest if they travel with Erdogan when he returns to the United States in a few weeks for the annual UN General Assembly meeting in New York. It will be a crucial moment for U.S.-Turkish relations if Erdogan brazenly arrives in New York with men he knows are wanted by the U.S. government.

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