US Pastor Andrew Brunson Released, Allowed to Leave Turkey

After Being Held for Two Years in Turkey Pastor Brunson is Released

In a tweet in August, Pence said USA sanctions "will continue until President Erdogan and the Turkish government release Pastor Brunson and return this innocent man of faith to the U.S". Prosecutors then demanded a sentence of up to 10 years. With tears in his eyes, he hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the decision Friday. He faced charges of espionage and aiding terrorist groups.

Brunson was brought early in the morning from his home in Izmir, where he had been under house arrest since July.

Brunson was detained in October 2016 and formally arrested that December.

Ahead of the court's decision, U.S. broadcaster NBC reported that Turkey and the USA had reached a secret deal for Mr Brunson to be released in exchange for the United States easing sanctions.

"Our administration has made very clear that we will continue to stand strong until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free and back home in the United States with his family and with his church", Pence said.

Jay Sekulow, who represents Brunson's family and serves on President Trump's personal legal team, said he is "grateful to the president, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson".

The evangelical pastor was accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years in prison.

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The decision ended a tense diplomatic standoff between the USA and Turkey that began after Brunson's October 2016 arrest on terror and treason charges.

In Turkey, witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced. He singles out the president, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador Sam Brownback, and Senator Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina).

Kenyon says Brunson's release will probably go over well in Turkey, where the punitive sanctions appear likely to be eased or lifted.

Mr. Trump discussed Mr. Brunson's plight on Twitter as reports started to surface.

Gulen, who is a lawful permanent resident of the US living in Pennsylvania, has denied that allegation. The U.S. military planned to fly him home on a military aircraft, officials told Reuters.

"I am and innocent man".

Brunson's release "could reset Trump and Erdogan's relationship", Soner Cagaptay of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said.

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In August, the USA imposed sanctions on two Turkish cabinet ministers in direct retaliation for Turkey's continued detention of Brunson, as NPR's Colin Dwyer reports.

The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church.

The Turkish government arrested Brunson in October of 2016, claiming he was aiding two groups it considers terrorists - the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Hizmet movement led by USA -based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen.

The American Center for Law and Justice had been working in the US and overseas to secure Brunson's release.

"Turkey: Lifting of the house arrest and travel ban of Pastor Brunson", AFP tweeted.

A United States pastor has left Turkey after more than two years in detention in a case that badly strained ties with the US.

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