2 Canadians wanted by U.S. police over brawl at Turkish ambassador’s D.C. residence
Police in Washington, D.C., have issued felony arrest warrants for two Canadian supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in connection with a bloody assault outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington last month.
Mahmut Sami Ellialti and Ahmet Cengizhan Dereci face charges of felony assault with significant bodily injury. Ellialti also faces a charge of felony aggravated assault.
Dereci’s Facebook page shows him to be the owner-operator of Senoz Electric Inc. on Winston Park Boulevard in Toronto.
Last summer, in the wake of a coup attempt in Turkey by elements of the military, Dereci spoke to CBC Toronto. He recalled how he and Ellialti had made their way to Toronto’s Turkish Consulate to cast ballots in the 2014 presidential election.
“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, as a state of unrest gripped his home country following the coup attempt.
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Ellialti and Dereci were described as “Canadian citizens” on a wanted notice issued Thursday by the Washington Metro Police Department and by police Chief Peter Newsham.
The events in D.C. occurred on May 16 immediately after Erdogan’s visit with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, and led to a major rift between the U.S. and Turkey at a time when relations are already strained.
Video clearly shows armed members of Erdogan’s security detail dressed in dark suits cross the street in front of the residence and physically assault a small group of peaceful pro-Kurdish protesters.
Video shot from another angle appears to show the Turkish president getting out of a limo, looking at the protesters and speaking to one of his bodyguards just prior to the attack. That bodyguard then appears to co-ordinate with some of his colleagues before launching what Washington’s police chief called an “unprovoked” attack on the demonstrators.
The Turkish government agents, joined by some civilian supporters of Erdogan’s AK Party, then charge across the street as Washington police officers struggle to hold them back.
Several can be seen beating and choking male and female protesters and kicking them on the ground. One elderly man is kicked multiple times in the face by different Turkish government agents, sustaining serious injuries. In total, nine people required treatment for injuries.
‘Intolerable’ attack, police chief says
Images of agents of a foreign government running violently amok in a leafy neighbourhood of the U.S. capital caused outrage and prompted calls for a strong reaction.
Washington police, more accustomed to protecting visiting dignitaries from protesters than protecting protesters from official delegations, appeared to be caught off guard by the attack and struggled to contain the Turks.
The district’s police chief called the attack “intolerable.” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser called it “a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration.”
“We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America,” said Senator John McCain, chair of the Senate armed services committee.
Senators sent a bipartisan letter to Erdogan linking the attack to his authoritarian behaviour at home.
“The violent response of your security detail to peaceful protesters is wholly unacceptable and, unfortunately, reflective of your government’s treatment of the press, ethnic minority groups and political opponents,” the letter said.
In Ankara, Erdogan reacted to the charges at a traditional iftar dinner held to break the daily Ramadan fast.
“What kind of justice is this?” he asked rhetorically. “If my security isn’t going to protect me, why am I taking them to the U.S. with me?”
Erdogan pledged to fight the charges using “all political and legal means.”
The Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said in a statement that the U.S. ambassador in Turkey has been told “the decision taken by U.S. authorities is wrong, biased and lacks legal basis” and that “this incident would not have occurred if the U.S. authorities had taken the usual measures they take in similar high-level visits and therefore that Turkish citizens cannot be held responsible for the incident that took place.”
The embassy statement also criticized U.S. authorities for allowing the protesters to get so close to the residence.
Under the rule of Erdogan, Turkey last year imprisoned more journalists than any other country. It has closed media outlets that don’t toe the government line and jails ordinary citizens who criticize the president on social media.
It also wasn’t the first time Erdogan’s bodyguards had attacked people in the U.S. During his last visit in 2016, his security detail beat and kicked protesters outside the Brookings Institution, where Erdogan was due to give a speech. They also violently attacked journalists covering the event, kicking an American cameraman in the chest to prevent him capturing the president’s arrival.
In 2011, Erdogan’s security detail attacked security guards at the UN headquarters in New York, sending one guard to hospital.
Question of extradition
Turkey is highly unlikely to agree to the extradition of any of its officials. Pro-government media in Turkey have portrayed the Turkish side as the victims in the melee, and the government has blamed U.S. officials for allowing a demonstration to occur near the ambassador’s residence in the first place.
The four civilians accused have no such protection, however. Two U.S. citizens are already under arrest for their part in the attack, and the District of Columbia now seems certain to request the extradition of Ellialti and Dereci on felony charges.
Global Affairs Canada said it was aware that two of those sought in the incident are believed to be in Canada.
In a statement, the department said: “Canada condemns the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators. Canada strongly supports human rights, including free speech and the right to peacefully protest.”
Under D.C. law, Ellialti’s charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and Dereci’s, three years.
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