ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — Anti-American protesters shouting “Yankee, go home!” roughed up three U.S. Navy sailors Wednesday in Istanbul near where their warship was docked on an inlet of the Bosphorus Strait in the Black Sea.
A dozen or more protesters shouted at them, calling them killers and said they should leave Turkey. The protesters, who carried a banner of the left-leaning Youth Association of Turkey, threw red paint at the sailors and briefly succeeded in putting white sacks over their heads.
“Soldiers from the occupying country think they can walk around freely in Eminonu,” association spokesman Melik Dibek said, referring to the neighborhood where the incident occurred. “It’s obvious why they’ve anchored here —because of their ambitions in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. American imperialism is the reason why the Middle East has turned into a chamber of fire.”
The servicemen, who were not in uniform, were from the USS Ross, a guided-missile destroyer docked nearby, according to Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command. He said they were not hurt and were safely back aboard the ship, but that shore leave for its sailors was canceled for the remainder of the day.
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara condemned the attack on Twitter and said it had no doubt that most Turks would reject such an action.
Anti-American sentiment in Turkey is not widespread, but some Turks accuse the United States of meddling in regional affairs.
In Washington, Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, called the attack “ugly and disturbing.” He said the attackers, whom he called street thugs, “bring great discredit upon the Turks and the Turkish reputation for hospitality.”
He said the assault “appears to be a one-off incident” and that he doesn’t believe it will disrupt U.S.-Turkish relations.
The Navy said in a statement that it was working with the Turkish National Police and embassy staff to investigate this incident and would continue to coordinate with Turkish authorities to review security procedures for future ship visits.
Dogan news agency said Turkish police have detained 12 people, including one woman, in connection with the incident.
One sailor tried to ignore the protesters to no avail. Another worked unsuccessfully to push off the protesters. When the sailors couldn’t get away, they began to walk and then run away down a sidewalk.
A video of the incident shot by the association and posted online showed the protesters chasing them, shouting “Yankee, go home!”
AP Military Writer Bob Burns in Washington contributed to this report.