US pas­tor ar­rives home from Turkey, Trump thanks Er­do­gan

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

WASH­ING­TON: An Amer­i­can pas­tor held for two years in Turkey was ex­pected back in the United States yes­ter­day af­ter a court freed him in a case that sparked a cri­sis in Ankara’s ties with Wash­ing­ton and trou­ble for its econ­omy. The court in the western town of Aliaga con­victed An­drew Brun­son on ter­ror­re­lated charges and sen­tenced him to three years, one month and 15 days in jail, an AFP cor­re­spon­dent said.

How­ever, he was re­leased tak­ing into ac­count time served and his good con­duct dur­ing the trial, with the court lift­ing his house ar­rest and over­seas travel ban. Af­ter briefly go­ing back to nearby Izmir to col­lect be­long­ings, Brun­son was driven to the city’s air­port where he boarded a US mil­i­tary plane. Richard Grenell, the US am­bas­sador to Ger­many, later tweeted a pic­ture show­ing Brun­son kiss­ing an Amer­i­can flag he was given at an air base where the plane landed for re­fu­el­ing.

“He’s al­most home thanks to @re­alDon­aldTrump. When I pre­sented him with the US flag, he im­me­di­ately kissed it. #agrate­ful­na­tion,” wrote Grenell. The US Pres­i­dent had pressed Turkey to re­lease Brun­son, who has be­come a cause cele­bre for Don­ald Trump’s con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian base. Trump said he would meet the pas­tor as soon as he re­turns. “Good news, Pas­tor Brun­son is in the air,” Trump told re­porters as he ar­rived in Cincin­nati on a cam­paign stop ahead of con­gres­sional elec­tions. “He is com­ing to the Oval Of­fice, most likely yes­ter­day.”

The pres­i­dent opened the rally by telling sup­port­ers he was “proud to re­port” Brun­son’s re­lease. “I think he’s go­ing to be in great shape,” Trump said. Brun­son, who was first de­tained in Oc­to­ber 2016, faced up to 35 years in jail on charges of aid­ing ter­ror­ist groups and es­pi­onage. Prose­cu­tors then de­manded a sen­tence of up to 10 years. He was con­victed on charges of aid­ing ter­ror­ist groups while not be­ing a mem­ber of them. Brun­son and US of­fi­cials in­sisted he is in­no­cent of all charges. “I am an in­no­cent man. I love Je­sus. I love Turkey,” he said in his fi­nal de­fense. When the ver­dict was read out, Brun­son wept and hugged his wife Norine.

‘Nav­i­gate a mine­field’

Brun­son’s de­ten­tion caused not just one of the worst diplo­matic rows of re­cent times be­tween NATO al­lies Turkey and the US, but also led to a crash in the Turk­ish lira which ex­posed the coun­try’s eco­nomic fragility. But fur­ther strains re­mained. Af­ter his re­lease, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo urged Turkey to free “quickly” other Amer­i­cans in de­ten­tion. “The world should know that (Trump and the State Depart­ment) con­tinue to work hard to bring home all Amer­i­can hostages and those wrong­fully im­pris­oned and de­tained,” Pom­peo tweeted.

NASA sci­en­tist Serkan Golge, a dual US-Turk­ish na­tional, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in Fe­bru­ary on ter­ror charges, a term re­duced to five years last month. And two Turk­ish em­ploy­ees of US diplo­matic mis­sions re­main in jail. One of them, for­mer Adana con­sulate staffer Hamza Ulu­cay, was on Fri­day de­nied re­lease in a sep­a­rate court hear­ing. An­thony Skin­ner, di­rec­tor of Mid­dle East and North Africa at the Verisk Maple­croft con­sul­tancy, said that the US and Turkey had plenty of dis­agree­ments be­yond Brun­son.

—AFP

IZMIR: US pas­tor An­drew Craig Brun­son (cen­ter left) ar­rives at Ad­nan Men­deres air­port in Izmir, af­ter be­ing freed fol­low­ing a trial in a court in Aliaga in western Izmir prov­ince.

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