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Freed US Pastor Held for Terror Charges Arrives Home from Turkey, Meets Trump

On Friday, a Turkish court in Aliaga convicted Brunson on charges of espionage and aiding terror groups. It sentenced him to three years, one month and 15 days in jail -- but released him based on time served and good behavior.

AFP

Updated:October 14, 2018, 7:52 AM IST
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Freed US Pastor Held for Terror Charges Arrives Home from Turkey, Meets Trump
US President Donald Trump closes his eyes in prayer along with Pastor Andrew Brunson, after his release from two years of Turkish detention, in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS
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Washington: An American pastor held for two years in Turkey on terror-related charges arrived home in the United States on Saturday, where he was to meet with US President Donald Trump, who signaled an easing in the diplomatic crisis sparked by the case.

Andrew Brunson -- who has become a cause celebre for Trump's conservative Christian base -- was due at the White House to see Trump and met him shortly after his arrival at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.

On Friday, a Turkish court in Aliaga convicted Brunson on charges of espionage and aiding terror groups. It sentenced him to three years, one month and 15 days in jail -- but released him based on time served and good behavior.

Brunson maintained his innocence throughout the process, and Trump administration officials have said the charges were politically motivated.

Trump thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his help on the case, which caused not only a serious diplomatic row between the NATO allies but led to a crash in the lira, exposing Turkey's economic fragility.

"Pastor Andrew Brunson, released by Turkey, will be with me in the Oval Office at 2:30 PM (this afternoon)," Trump tweeted.

"It will be wonderful to see and meet him. He is a great Christian who has been through such a tough experience. I would like to thank President @RT_Erdogan for his help!" Erdogan however said the court's decision was "taken independently." Both Trump and Erdogan have denied reports that the two sides reached a secret deal for the 50-year-old Brunson to be released in exchange for the US easing "economic pressure" on Ankara.

"There was NO DEAL made with Turkey... I don't make deals for hostages," Trump said on Twitter.

"There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!" Erdogan responded: "I hope that the United States and Turkey continue cooperation in a manner that befits two allies."

Brunson is an evangelical Presbyterian clergyman who lived in Turkey for nearly half his life, initially moving there in 1993 as part of a missionary program.

He was first detained in October 2016, faced up to 35 years in jail. Prosecutors then demanded a sentence of up to 10 years. The pastor steadfastly insisted he was not guilty.

"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.

After gathering his belongings, Brunson was driven to the airport in the Turkish city of Izmir, where he boarded a US military plane for Germany.

Upon arrival there for a refueling stop, he kissed an American flag presented to him by Richard Grenell, the US ambassador in Berlin.

While the strain in US-Turkish relations eased with Brunson's release, problems remain.
(Get detailed and live results of each and every seat in the Lok Sabha elections and state Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to know which candidate/party is leading or trailing and to know who has won and who has lost and by what margin. Our one-of-its-kind Election Analytics Centre lets you don a psephologist’s hat and turn into an election expert. Know interesting facts and trivia about the elections and see our informative graphics. Elections = News18)
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