ISTANBUL – The ultra-nationalist Turkish group behind a shocking, videotaped attack on three U.S. Navy sailors in Istanbul said Thursday it is proud of the assailants and that they acted in solidarity with Syrians and Palestinians.
Turkish police detained and then released 12 members of the Turkish Youth Union (TGB) in connection with Wednesday's attack, which left none of the Americans injured but drew swift condemnation from the Pentagon and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. In the attack, in the city's historic Eminönü neighborhood, a throng of young men surrounded the sailors, taunting and jostling them, spattering them with red paint and pulling bags over their heads in a tactic the TGB favors to express anti-American sentiment before chasing them down a street.
"The bags we put over the American soldiers are for the nations of Palestine and Syria," a statement from the TGB, a fringe group with scant membership or support inside Turkey, said.
Speaking on behalf of the attackers, the president of TGB Istanbul, Uğur Aytaç, told FoxNews.com they were "proud to be detained for such a reason.
"They [the Americans] were afraid," he said. "They should be, because we will not give them a rest."
The sailors made it safely back aboard the guided missile destroyer the USS Ross, Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman at European Command, told Fox News. The ship had been docked in Turkey following a NATO drill in the Black Sea, according to U.S. officials. The Ross routinely makes patrols in the Mediterranean from its home port in Rota, Spain.
The assailants were detained by Turkish police on allegations of injuring, insult and violation of the public demonstration law and released with the possibility of facing charges.
“We condemn this disrespectful act, which is in no way tolerable,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said in a statement.
The TGB is a Turkish far-left, anti-government, anti-American revolutionary youth organization founded in May 2006. The group is known for its strong beliefs in conspiracy theories about the West controlling Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), despite Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Western governments.
The TGB advocates removal of English classes from schools in Turkey and claims to promote the principles of Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who was actually pro-Western. The group opposes Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union and any cooperation with what it calls “American imperialism.”
It was not the first time the TGB has harassed allied NATO soldiers visiting Turkey. Last year, members of the same group physically confronted German soldiers who had been deployed along with a Patriot missile battery that had been requested by the Turkish government to protect border cities from the threat of aerial attacks from neighboring Syria. During that incident, the group also reportedly tried to put bags over the German soldiers' heads.
The act of putting a bag over someone’s head may not mean much to Westerners, but in Turkey it evokes an incident in 2003 that became known throughout the country as “Çuval Olayı,” the “Hood Event.”
During the Iraq war, soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade raided a safe house in the Kurdish-held city of Sulaymaniya, based on information the occupants were planning to assassinate the governor of the province of Kirkuk. Inside were members of Iraq's Turkoman Front and Turkish Special Forces soldiers, including a colonel and two majors. American soldiers seized explosives, sniper rifles, grenades and maps of Kirkuk, with circles drawn around positions near the governor's building.
Images of the 11 Turkish commandos, their heads hooded as they were led to interrogation rooms by U.S. soldiers, were met by threats of retaliation from Turkey, including the closing of Turkish airspace and American access to Incirlik Air Base. The BBC reported protests in Ankara and İstanbul, noting that Turks were angry that Americans were interfering in what they thought to be Turkey’s sphere of influence.
The Turks were eventually freed after Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, but Turkish newspapers loudly condemned the raid, referring to U.S. forces as "Rambos," and "Ugly Americans."
The Hood Event was the inspiration for the hugely popular, 2006 Turkish film "Valley of the Wolves - Iraq." The film opens with a depiction of the “Hood Event,” and follows a fictional story in which the Turkish protagonist seeks retaliation against the American commander responsible for the incident. The film, which was released in February 2006, was the highest grossing Turkish film of that year and one of the most expensive Turkish films ever made.
Three months later the nationalist TGB was established.
This week’s attack came amid discussions over the U.S.-led coalition’s support of Kurdish forces over the Turkish border in Syria.