A Turkish group described as an anti-American gang threw red dye and put bags over the heads of three U.S. sailors on liberty Wednesday in Istanbul before the sailors escaped and returned safely to their ship.
Video of the incident showed the sailors in civilian clothes on the waterfront getting pushed and pelted with what appeared to be red dye before the sailors managed to break away and run back to their ship, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer Ross.
In a statement, the Navy said that the video "shows approximately 20 individuals, claiming to be from the 'Turkish Youth Union,' verbally and physically assaulting the sailors while on liberty in Istanbul."
The sailors "managed to remove themselves from the situation without sustaining injuries and are safely back aboard USS Ross," the statement said.
The Navy was working with the Turkish National Police and U.S. Embassy staff to find the perpetrators and the Navy" will continue to coordinate with Turkish authorities to review security procedures for future ship visits," the statement said.
The Turkish Youth Union has been described as a left-wing revolutionary organization that opposes the nationalist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey's entry into the European Union. The group, with representatives and clubs at 40 Turkish universities, has denounced "American imperialism" in the region.
The incident came at a time of increasing tension between Ankara and Washington over the efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and deal with the massive influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey. Turkey has also denied the use by U.S. warplanes of the major airbase at Incirlik to carry out airstrikes against ISIS.
However, the Navy said: "We have enjoyed a strong relationship with Turkey for many years. As NATO allies, we share common interests, and this incident will not diminish that strong relationship." The Navy statement also noted that "Turkish ports have long been very popular destinations for U.S. Navy ships."
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said on Twitter that "the assault on three visiting American sailors is appalling. While we respect the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression, we have no doubt the vast majority of Turks would join us in rejecting an action that so disrespects Turkey's reputation for hospitality."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org