Turkey re­leases Brun­son af­ter con­vict­ing him of ter­ror links

The Mercury News - - News - By Zeynep Bil­gin­soy

IZMIR, TURKEY >> An Amer­i­can pas­tor flew out of Turkey on Fri­day af­ter a Turk­ish court con­victed him of ter­ror links but freed him from house ar­rest, re­mov­ing a ma­jor ir­ri­tant in fraught ties be­tween two NATO al­lies still strained by dis­agree­ments over Syria, Iran and a host of other is­sues.

The court near the western city of Izmir sen­tenced North Carolina na­tive An­drew Brun­son to just over three years in prison for al­legedly help­ing ter­ror groups, but let him go be­cause the 50-year-old evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor had al­ready spent nearly two years in de­ten­tion. An ear­lier charge of es­pi­onage was dropped.

Hours later, Brun­son was trans­ported to Izmir’s air­port and was flown out of Turkey, where he had lived for more than two decades. He was to be flown to the U.S. mil­i­tary hospi­tal in Land­stuhl, Ger­many, then on to Wash­ing­ton, where he was to meet with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Satur­day.

“I love Je­sus. I love Turkey,” an emo­tional Brun­son, who had main­tained he was in­no­cent of all charges, told the court dur­ing Fri­day’s hear­ing. He tear­fully hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the court de­ci­sion.

“PAS­TOR BRUN­SON JUST RE­LEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!” Trump tweeted af­ter the Amer­i­can was driven out of a Turk­ish prison in a con­voy. Later, af­ter Brun­son was air­borne, Trump told re­porters the pas­tor had “suf­fered greatly” but was in “very good shape,” and that he would meet with him at the Oval Of­fice on Satur­day.

Brun­son’s re­lease was a diplo­matic tri­umph for Trump, who is count­ing on the sup­port of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians for Repub­li­can can­di­dates ahead of con­gres­sional elec­tions in Novem­ber.

It could also ben­e­fit Turkey, al­low­ing the govern­ment to fo­cus on an es­ca­lat­ing diplo­matic cri­sis over Ja­mal Khashoggi, a Saudi con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Post who went miss­ing more than a week ago and is feared dead af­ter en­ter­ing the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul. Turk­ish of­fi­cials sus­pect Khashoggi was killed in the con­sulate; Saudi of­fi­cials deny it.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Turkey could now hope that the U.S. will lift tar­iffs on Turk­ish steel and alu­minum im­ports, in­ject­ing some con­fi­dence into an econ­omy rat­tled by high in­fla­tion and a moun­tain of for­eign cur­rency debt.

EMRE TAZEGUL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pas­tor An­drew Brun­son, cen­ter left, and his wife, Norine Brun­son, ar­rive at a Turk­ish air­port for a flight to Ger­many af­ter his re­lease fol­low­ing his trial in Turkey.

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