Police in the US capital issued arrest warrants Thursday for a dozen Turkish security agents accused of attacking protesters during a visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, prompting an angry denunciation by Turkey's leader and creating a new spat between the NATO allies.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the charges "send a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression".
He said the State Department would work with police and legal authorities as the cases progress and decide on additional steps when that process is complete.
The United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech"
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined to say what actions might be taken, but the US could seek the extradition of the Turkish suspects or bar them from entering the United States.
Tillerson's comment came shortly after District of Columbia Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that arrest warrants had been issued for nine Turkish security guards, three Turkish police officers and two Canadians.
Newsham urged those being sought and some still unidentified to surrender, speaking a day after two other people were arrested in the case.
The melee has become a major irritant in US-Turkish ties and the charges appeared to escalate the situation Thursday.
Speaking at a dinner to break the Ramadan fast in Ankara, Erdogan asked, "What kind of a law is this?" Referring to his security detail, he said, "If they are not going to protect me, why would I bring them with me to America?"
Erdogan said the protesters were members of an outlawed Kurdish militant group and the US police failed to act. He vowed to fight the decision on legal and political grounds.
Relations were severely strained even before the melee, which came as Erdogan arrived May 16 at the Turkish ambassador's residence after a White House meeting with President Donald Trump.
Newsham said video showed security guards and some Erdogan supporters attacking a small group of protesters. Nine people were hurt.