ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s foreign minister on Friday described an assault on U.S. sailors in Istanbul this week as reprehensible and vowed that the attackers would “pay the price for their actions.”
Members of the nationalist Turkish Youth Union attacked three U.S. sailors on a crowded street in Istanbul on Wednesday, shouting “Yankee go home”, throwing paint at them and trying to pull hoods over their heads. Video footage was later posted on the group’s website.
Twelve people were detained but released by an Istanbul court on Thursday. They could still face charges for causing insult and injury, however.
“The relevant Turkish authorities are conducting a full investigation ... We will take all necessary precautions to ensure that such isolated incidents do not occur again,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to Australia.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States is “satisfied that the Turkish government is taking this incident seriously.”
Psaki noted that senior Turkish officials have condemned the incident and that prosecutors are pursuing a criminal investigation. She said the American embassy in Istanbul has been in close touch with Turkish authorities on the matter.
Anti-American sentiment is running high in Turkey, with a recent poll indicating only 19 percent of Turks have a favourable view of the United States.
Diplomatic relations have been strained since last year over U.S. criticism of the Turkish authorities’ crackdown on anti-government protests and the handling of a corruption scandal linked to the inner circle of President Tayyip Erdogan.
More recently, Turkey’s unwillingness to take an active role in the fight against Islamic State has also caused friction.
Officials in both countries, however, stressed the importance of the relationship.
Cavusoglu offered his sympathies to the three sailors, who were not injured.
“Through thick and thin, the people of Turkey welcome them and all their brothers and sisters in arms, into their homes and hearts as long-standing friends and partners,” Cavusoglu added.
The U.S. embassy condemned the attack on Wednesday and added: “(We) have no doubt the vast majority of Turks would join us in rejecting an action that so disrespects Turkey’s reputation for hospitality.”
Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Istanbul; Additional reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Grebler