Trial of Amer­i­can pas­tor be­gins in İzmir

The trial of an Amer­i­can pri­est that has cre­ated ten­sion be­tween Tur­key and the U.S. will be­gin in İzmir to­day

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

THE TRIAL of Amer­i­can pas­tor An­drew Craig Brun­son on charges of sup­port­ing FETÖ and the PKK and es­pi­onage, which carry a sen­tence of 35 years in to­tal, will be­gin to­day at a court in the Aegean city of İzmir.

THE trial of Amer­i­can pas­tor An­drew Craig Brun­son on charges of es­pi­onage and aid­ing the PKK and Gülenist Ter­ror Group (FETÖ) will be­gin to­day at a court in the Aegean city of İzmir. In an in­dict­ment pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented to the court, Brun­son is ac­cused of com­mit­ting crimes on be­half of FETÖ and the PKK and of ob­tain­ing clas­si­fied state in­for­ma­tion for po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary pur­poses, fac­ing up to 15 and 20 years in jail, re­spec­tively.

Only a few days ago, re­ports said that the lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cers fol­low­ing up on the case un­cov­ered new ev­i­dence of con­tact be­tween Brun­son and the top FETÖ of­fi­cial of the re­gion, Bekir Baz. While Brun­son re­jects claims that he ever met Baz, in­ves­ti­ga­tions into both in­di­vid­u­als GSM sig­nals showed that they were at the same place or at least very close to each other on 293 oc­ca­sions. Baz cur­rently re­mains a fugi­tive from law.

The re­port, which was sub­mit­ted to court, traces 5 GSM ac­counts reg­is­tered to Brun­son and 2 GSM ac­counts be­long­ing to Baz be­tween April 4, 2011, and Aug. 19, 2015. The re­port also claims that Brun­son’s GSM ac­counts were also at the same place as the GSM ac­counts of Baz’s deputy Mustafa Safa. Baz is known as one of the se­lect few who were able to di­rectly con­tact Fe­tul­lah Gülen, the leader of FETÖ, who has lived in Penn­syl­va­nia for close to two decades.

The case of Brun­son, who was a pas­tor at the Dir­iliş (Res­ur­rec- tion) Protes­tant church in Izmir, is a thorny is­sue be­tween Ankara and Wash­ing­ton. Wash­ing­ton has re­peat­edly called for the re­lease of Brun­son, claim­ing he was “un­justly de­tained.”

For­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son was the last high­rank­ing U.S. of­fi­cial to de­mand his re­lease dur­ing a visit to Tur­key in Fe­bru­ary, a de­mand seen by lo­cal of­fi­cials as dis­re­spect to­wards the in­de­pen­dence of the Turk­ish ju­di­ciary. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly told Wash­ing­ton that Brun­son’s case is be­ing han­dled by the courts and the gov­ern­ment can­not in­ter­vene.

FETÖ is im­pli­cated in a string of crim­i­nal in­quiries, the most sig­nif­i­cant of which are tri­als re­lated to the deadly coup at­tempt of July 15, 2016, through its in­fil­tra­tors in the mil­i­tary that killed 249 peo­ple.

The U.S. did not re­spond pos­i­tively to Tur­key’s re­quests to ex­tra­dite or ar­rest Gülen to pre­vent his es­cape to an­other coun­try.

Brun­son was ar­rested af­ter a se­cret wit­ness in a crim­i­nal probe into FETÖ tes­ti­fied against him while au­thor­i­ties were pre­par­ing to de­port Brun­son and his wife Norine Lyn for “in­volve­ment in ac­tions threat­en­ing na­tional se­cu­rity.”

The in­dict­ment un­der­lined the pas­tor’s links to the ter­ror­ist group and his fre­quent con­tacts with Baz, a fugi­tive point man for the FETÖ in the Aegean re­gion, his aide Mu­rat Safa, and Amnesty Tur­key Branch Ex­ec­u­tive Taner Kılıç, who is also be­ing ac­cused of aid­ing FETÖ.

The charges were first voiced by a se­cret wit­ness, play­ing a key part in the launch of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The pas­tor and his wife – who was re­leased ear­lier – were mem­bers of FETÖ, which funded their church, the wit­ness had said.

Even be­fore he was ques­tioned by pros­e­cu­tors about his links to FETÖ, Brun­son was ac­cused of es­pi­onage and at­tempt­ing to over­throw the con­sti­tu­tional or­der (a coup charge). Brun­son had de­nied those ini­tial al­le­ga­tions, but the in­dict­ment ac­cused him with mak­ing speeches prais­ing FETÖ and the PKK at the church.

The in­dict­ment also charged Brun­son with con­duct­ing sys­tem­atic ef­forts that tar­geted Kur­dish cit­i­zens and with found­ing the “Kur­dish Church of the Mes­siah,” where only Kurds are ad­mit­ted. There is also ev­i­dence show­ing Brun­son with PKK flags and sym­bols, it said, adding that Brun­son fre­quently vis­ited Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, in north­ern Syria, which is be­ing con- trolled by the PKK’s Syr­ian off­shoot the Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), and Tur­key’s Su­ruç dis­trict in south­east­ern Şan­lıurfa prov­ince across the bor­der.

Brun­son also took part in or­ga­niz­ing the 2013 Gezi Park ri­ots, the in­dict­ment ac­cused, claim­ing that he was in pos­ses­sion of lists con­tain­ing the names of “gas sta­tion work­ers in Tur­key’s south­east,” “rail­way em­ploy­ees,” or “sol­diers to get in con­tact with,” with whom he ex­changed in­for­ma­tion through close con­tacts.

The in­dict­ment also noted that the sus­pect was charged with be­ing in con­tact with re­tired sol­diers, spe­cial war­fare of­fi­cers and high-rank lead­ers of the PKK and FETÖ, which is un­der­stood through two se­cret and five open wit­ness state­ments, along with ev­i­dence as dig­i­tal data, doc­u­ments, phone con­ver­sa­tion and wire­less tower records pro­vided by Brun­son him­self, wit­nesses and au­thor­i­ties.

Un­der its “in­ter­faith project,” Gülenists reached out to Protes­tant and Catholic churches, though it is the first time that a pas­tor is be­ing im­pli­cated in a FETÖ case.

While me­dia re­ports claim that it is not con­firmed if Brun­son is “a U.S. agent” or not, a sep­a­rate in­dict­ment by pros­e­cu­tors in Ankara says FETÖ used its sprawl­ing in­ter­na­tional net­work of schools to pro­vide a cover for CIA op­er­a­tives.

The FETÖ’s coup at­tempt in 2016 was quelled thanks to a strong pub­lic re­sis­tance. Thou­sands of peo­ple, from mil­i­tary of­fi­cers who opened fire on un­armed crowds ral­ly­ing against the coup to “civil­ian” point men of the ter­ror­ist group, were ar­rested or de­tained un­der a state of emer­gency.

Tri­als of hun­dreds in­volved in the putsch at­tempt are still un­der­way. In 104 tri­als since 2016, 797 de­fen­dants in­volved in the in­sur­rec­tion bid were handed down life sen­tences.

Some 586 de­fen­dants, in­clud­ing gen­er­als, were sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment. A main trial of those ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing the coup plot and a trial of putschists who took over the main head­quar­ters of the army, are still un­der­way.

Baz, one of the group’s point men who had ties to Brun­son, is be­lieved to be in the U.S. af­ter he fled Tur­key in 2015 one year be­fore the coup at­tempt. He man­aged to run away at a time of height­ened crack­downs against the ter­ror­ist group.

Baz was al­legedly a co­or­di­na­tor of the group’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Izmir where Gülen made him­self a name as a charis­matic preacher in the 1970s. He re­port­edly black­mailed and threat­ened lo­cal of­fi­cials to work for the group’s in­ter­ests, ac­cord­ing to crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Amer­i­can pas­tor An­drew craig Brun­son faces charges of es­pi­onage and aid­ing the PKK and FETÖ ter­ror­ist groups.

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