US pastor leaves Turkey after two years in jail

A US pastor is heading back to his homeland after being freed by Turkey in exchange for easing of sanctions, reports say.

Andrew Craig Brunson flew out from western Izmir province on Friday after the local court ruled for his release easing tensions between the two countries.

Brunson is among two dozen Americans who were detained by Turkey soon after the failed coup in 2016. They were charged with espionage and aiding terrorists in orchestrating the coup which Ankara believes was plotted by the US-based Turkish preacher Muhammed Fethulla Gulen. Brunson and others denied the charges.

Although Brunson was sentenced to three-year jail term, he was released by the court after considering the time he had already served.

In a statement after his release, Brunson said God has answered his family’s prayers and he is grateful to the US President Donald Trump and others for their unwavering support.

US had threatened Turkey to release Brunson or be prepared to face the consequences.

Washington imposed sanctions on Turkish interior and justice ministers for their alleged roles in the arrest and detention of Brunson. It also doubled tariffs on Turkish aluminium and steel on Aug 10.

The tariffs and sanctions led to the free fall of Turkish lira. However, according to Turkish reports, Erdogan made it clear to the US that economic manipulation cannot bring his country to its knees.

Ahead of Friday’s court decision, US media said Ankara and Washington reached a secret deal for Brunson’s release in exchange for Washington easing sanctions.

Brunson had been living in Turkey with his family for more than two decades and working for the small Izmir Resurrection Church.