U.S. pastor convicted of terror, then released
ALIAGA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Friday convicted an American pastor on terror charges but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave the country, a move that’s likely to ease tensions between Turkey and the United States.
The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced Andrew Brunson to 3 years, 1 month and 15 days in prison for allegedly helping terror groups. But since the evangelical pastor had already spent nearly two years in detention, Turkish law allowed him to remain free with time served.
The earlier charge of espionage against him was dropped.
Hours later, Brunson was transported to Izmir’s airport and was flown out of Turkey, where he had lived for over two decades.
Brunson, a native of North Carolina whose detention had sparked a diplomatic dispute between the two NATO allies, had rejected the espionage and terrorrelated charges and strongly maintained his innocence.
The 50-year-old native of North Carolina had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges. With tears in his eyes, he hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the decision Friday.
Washington had repeatedly called for Brunson’s release and in August had slapped sanctions on Turkey.
Brunson was one of thousands caught up in a widespread government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.
He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups and of alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt.
“I am an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” Brunson told the court Friday, speaking in Turkish.
U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson (left) is escorted to his home following a trial in western Izmir province.