US priest faces prison term for FETÖ mem­ber­ship

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

PROS­E­CU­TORS in the city of İzmir are ask­ing up to 35 years for Amer­i­can pas­tor An­drew Craig Brun­son, who was ar­rested on charges of mem­ber­ship of the Gülenist Ter­ror Group (FETÖ) which or­ches­trated the July 15, 2016 coup at­tempt in Turkey.

turk­ish pros­e­cu­tors are ask­ing for up to 35 years for An­drew Craig Brun­son, an Amer­i­can priest who Wash­ing­ton has fer­vently asked to be re­leased, on charges of mem­ber­ship in a ter­ror­ist group that was im­pli­cated in the 2016 coup at­tempt.

Pros­e­cu­tors in the western city of İzmir, where An­drew Craig Brun­son served as a pas­tor, have asked a court to hand down 15 years in prison for “com­mit­ting a crime on be­half of a ter­ror­ist group” and an­other 20 years for “ob­tain­ing con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments for po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary es­pi­onage”

In an in­dict­ment pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented to the court, Brun­son is ac­cused of links to Gülenist Ter­ror Group (FETÖ), which is blamed for car­ry­ing out deadly coup at­tempt in July 15, 2016, through its in­fil­tra­tors in the mil­i­tary. A hear­ing will be set for Brun­son if the court ac­cepts the in­dict­ment.

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

De­part­ing U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son was the last high-rank­ing U.S. of­fi­cial to de­mand his re­lease dur­ing a visit to Turkey last month, dis­re­gard­ing ju­di­ciary in­de­pen­dence. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly told Wash­ing­ton that Brun­son’s case is be­ing han­dled by the courts and the gov­ern­ment can’t in­ter­vene.

FETÖ, led by Penn­syl­va­nia res­i­dent Fe­tul­lah Gülen, is im­pli­cated in a string of crim­i­nal in­quiries, the most sig­nif­i­cant of which is tri­als re­lated to the coup at­tempt that killed 249 peo­ple.

The United States 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 wit­ness has de­tailed the pas­tor’s links to the ter­ror­ist group and his fre­quent con­tacts with Bekir Baz, a fugi­tive point man for FETÖ in the Aegean re­gion where İzmir is lo­cated.

The pas­tor and his wife – who has been re­leased ear­lier – were mem­bers of FETÖ which funded their church, the wit­ness 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.

Pros­e­cu­tors also linked Brun­son to the PKK, an­other ter­ror­ist group whose mem­bers were al­legedly given shel­ter at the Dir­iliş church.

FETÖ, which posed as a char­ity with re­li­gious un­der­tones for decades be­fore us­ing its im­mense clout to seize power through in­fil­tra- tors in the mil­i­tary, is known for its close ties with churches.

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.

The ter­ror­ist group’s ties to the United States and its in­tel­li­gence ser­vice are no se­cret, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors in other cases against FETÖ.

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

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. 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.

Bekir Baz, one of the group’s point man who had ties to Brun­son, is be­lieved to be in the United States 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 İzmir where Gülen made him­self a name as a charis­matic preacher in 1970s. He re­port­edly black­mailed and threat­ened lo­cal of­fi­cials to work for the group’s in­ter­ests, ac­cord­ing to crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

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