December 4, 2014 / 4:18 PM / 3 years ago

Turkish nationalists charged in assault on U.S. sailors, face long jail sentence

U.S. sailors stand on board as guided-missile destroyer USS Ross leaves from the port in Istanbul November 13, 2014. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Thirteen Turkish nationalists accused of assaulting two U.S. sailors in Istanbul could face a decade in prison after being charged with causing insult and injury and violating protest laws, according to an indictment published on Thursday.

Members of the Turkish Youth Union attacked the sailors on a crowded street last month, shouting “Yankee go home”, throwing paint at them and trying to pull hoods over their heads. Video footage was later posted on the nationalist group’s website.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described the assault as reprehensible and vowed the attackers would ”pay the price

The prosecutors’ indictment, published by the Dogan news agency, quoted testimony from the two sailors in which they described being followed from the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Ross, which was docked in Istanbul, as they took shore leave.

The attackers’ actions were a reference to an incident in Iraq in July 2003, when U.S. forces detained a Turkish special forces unit, leading them away for interrogation with hoods over their heads. The incident enraged many Turks at the time.

According to the indictment cited by Dogan, prosecutors are seeking jail sentences of 10 and a half years for the attackers.

Prosecutors could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Turkish Youth Union defended its members’ actions on Thursday, vowing at a news conference not to abandon their struggle against “American imperialism even if they were jailed for a hundred years”.

NATO member Turkey is one of Washington’s key allies in the Middle East, but anti-American sentiment runs high in some parts of society. A recent poll indicated only 19 percent of Turks had a favorable view of the United States.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Gareth Jones

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