Turk­ish court re­leases Amer­i­can pas­tor

He was con­victed of help­ing ter­ror­ists but al­lowed to re­turn home

Tulsa World - - Front Page - By Zeynep Bil­gin­soy

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.

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