American Pastor Andrew Brunson Freed, Turkish Court Rules

North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson Reportedly Set to be Released by Turkish Government

The case against Mr Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years and was arrested two years ago, had led to U.S. tariffs against Turkey and drawn condemnation from Mr Trump.

Last week, Erdogan accused the Trump administration of using Brunson as a pretext for sanctions, charging the pastor has "dark ties to terror groups, Bloomberg reported". He tearfully hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the court decision.

The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced North Carolina native Andrew Brunson to just over three years in prison for allegedly helping terror groups, but let him go because the 50-year-old evangelical pastor had already spent almost two years in detention.

But Turkey said its judiciary is independent and US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was "not aware" of any such settlement. He has been house arrest since July.

The court allowed Brunson to live at his place in Izmir, but barred him from "abandonment of residence" and banned him from leaving the country.

Brunson was arrested and detained for 18 months before finally being charged by the Turkish government with a connection to the coup attempt.

Gulen, who is a lawful permanent resident of the US living in Pennsylvania, has denied that allegation.

The pastor told the court he is "an innocent man".

Earlier, the court called two witnesses following tips from witness Levent Kalkan, who at a previous hearing had accused Brunson of aiding terror groups.

But at the hearing, a witness told the court Kalkan was the source of those accusations.

Mrs Brunson said: "The vice president contacted Norrine [Andrew's wife] and the White House has left a message on our phone".

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Brunson is a North Carolina native with wife and three kids who pastored a Presbyterian church in Turkey. He was arrested in October 2016 and accused of complicity with the attempted coup against President Recep Erdogan in July that year.

President Donald Trump launched sanctions on Turkey earlier this year over Brunson's jailing, and made resolving the pastor's case a key foreign policy issue for his administration.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Members of Mr Brunson's church celebrated in front of his house after he was released What was he accused of?

"This is the day our family has been praying for - I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States", Brunson said.

She quotes White as saying the group is "all just shouting 'Hallelujah!' and doing the happy dance".

"Pastor Andrew Brunson is coming home!"

The move could help towards healing ties between Ankara and Washington-both North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

Erdogan had said he wouldn't hand Brunson back to the United States, but analysts at the Eurasia Group note that the Turkish President has recently shifted position, saying the decision wasn't his to make but would be made by the independent Turkish judiciary. But he had previously suggested a possible swap involving Brunson and Gulen, who denied he organized the coup attempt.

The US imposes sanctions on Suleyman Soylu, Turkey's interior minister, and Abdulhamit Gul, the justice minister. Turkish officials say they fear Saudi Arabia killed and dismembered Khashoggi, without offering evidence explaining why they believe that. Saudi officials reject the claims as "baseless".

Associated Press journalists Mehmet Guzel in Izmir and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

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