Turkish court releases American pastor
He was convicted of helping terrorists but allowed to return home
IZMIR, Turkey — An American pastor flew out of Turkey on Friday after a Turkish court convicted him of terrorist 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 terrorist 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 taken 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, and then on to Washington, where he was to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday.
Trump told reporters that 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 doesn't resolve disagreements over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as a plan by Turkey to buy Russian missiles.
Turkey is also frustrated by the refusal of the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of engineering a 2016 coup attempt.
The court dropped an espionage charge against Brunson, who had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him. He was among tens of thousands of people, mostly Turks, who were caught up in a government crackdown after the failed coup.
He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of Gulen as well as Kurdish militants who have been fighting the Turkish state for decades.