US court confirms prison deal for two Erdogan backers

Washington (AFP) –


A Washington court has confirmed prison sentences for two supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who assaulted peaceful pro-Kurdish protesters last year.

Judge Marisa Demeo confirmed on Thursday the sentences of one year and a day in jail for each of the two US citizens, Sinan Narin and Eyup Yildirim, over the incident in May that raised tensions between Washington and Ankara.

The pair pleaded guilty in December to "assault with significant bodily injury" against protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence following a meeting between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump.

Demeo confirmed the sentences reached under earlier plea agreements, which will allow the two US residents to get out of prison in the next few weeks.

Their time in custody is counted from June, when they were arrested.

It is likely that the two men, aged 45 and 50 when charges were laid, will be the only ones convicted in the case which saw indictments against 19 people, including members of Erdogan's entourage.

Narin and Yildirim were the only suspects arrested. Two more suspects were Turkish-Canadians, and the rest were Turkish citizens who were members of Erdogan's security team, all of whom remain at large.

The US quietly dropped charges against 11 of the Erdogan bodyguards, although much of the assault was filmed by bystanders and police identified the suspects partly through the video recordings.

The first batch of four dismissed cases came on the eve of a visit to Washington by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in November 2017.

The second dismissal, of seven accused, took place a day before then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's February meeting with Erdogan in Ankara.

A Washington police spokesman described the assault as a "brutal attack on a peaceful protest," with several people hospitalized.

The attack was an embarrassment for US authorities, who invited Erdogan to meet Trump despite concerns over the Turkish government's increasingly authoritarian clampdown on media and opposition.

The indictments further raised the temperature of heated relations between the two countries. Erdogan called the case a "scandalous demonstration of how American justice works."

Washington considers its NATO ally Turkey crucial to the battle against the Islamic State group.