The men seen on video beating protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in D.C. Tuesday are bodyguards for the country's president, senior U.S. officials tell NBC News.
Nine people were hurt and two arrests were made after an altercation broke out between two groups at the protest on 23rd Street NW, about a half-mile from Dupont Circle.
According to senior U.S. officials, the men seen beating the protesters were Erdogan's bodyguards and part of his official party.
"That’s something we will not tolerate here in Washington, D.C. This is a city where people should be allowed to come and peacefully protest," Metropolitan Chief of Police Peter Newsham said at Wednesday's press conference.
"We are going to pursue anything that is within our legal powers to hold the folks that were responsible for their actions," Newsham added.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer had no comment on the reported incident. When asked if President Donald Trump had seen footage from the altercation, Spicer referred to the State Department's official comment released Wednesday.
"We are concerned by the violent incidents involving protesters and Turkish security personnel Tuesday evening," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest."
"We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms," the statement continued.
The Turkish Embassy released a statement late Wednesday, calling the melee an act of "self-defence" after members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party provoked people there to see President Erdogan.
"Groups affiliated with the PKK, which the U.S. and Turkey have designated as a terrorist organization, gathered yesterday without permit in Sheridan Circle in the immediate vicinity of the Ambassador’s Residence, while the President of Turkey was visiting the Residence," the statement read. "The demonstrators began aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens who had peacefully assembled to greet the President. The Turkish-Americans responded in self-defense and one of them was seriously injured. The violence and injuries were the result of this unpermitted, provocative demonstration. We hope that, in the future, appropriate measures will be taken to ensure that similar provocative actions causing harm and violence do not occur.”
The executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, Aran Hamparian, witnessed and recorded the incident.
"It was a pretty aggressive assault by people who were very well-prepared. I think they were security or bodyguards or part of that contingent that traveled with President Erdogan," Hamparian said.
Two men were arrested, including one who was charged with assaulting a police officer. The bodyguards were not among those arrested.
D.C. police say they intend to pursue charges against other individuals involved.
The incident came the same day that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Donald Trump at the White House.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser condemned what she called an "attack" at the ambassador's residence.
"What we saw yesterday -- a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration -- is an affront to DC values and our rights as Americans. I strongly condemn these actions and have been briefed by Chief Newsham on our response," she said in a statement. "The Metropolitan Police Department will continue investigating the incident and will work with federal partners to ensure justice is served."
The diplomatic immunity that foreign leaders typically are afforded usually applies to their security details as well, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Joseph Giacalone told NBC News.
Samantha Power, former President Barack Obama's ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted about the incident.
"Clearly Erdogan's guards feel complete impunity, drawing on tools of repression they use at home & knowing he has their back, no matter what," she wrote.