IZMIR (Turkey) • A US pastor has been flown out of Turkey after a court freed him from two years of detention, in a step that could improve US-Turkish ties strained by disputes over Syria, Iran and Ankara's planned purchase of Russian military equipment.
Pastor Andrew Brunson was expected to land at Joint Base Andrews near Washington at around noon yesterday after a stop in Germany for a medical check-up.
He was jailed two years ago and had been under house arrest since July. He was accused of links to Kurdish militants and supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Turkey's government for a coup attempt in 2016.
The Turkish court sentenced Pastor Brunson to three years and one-and-a-half months in prison on terrorism charges, but said he would not serve any further jail time and freed him.
The pastor, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, had denied the accusations and Washington had demanded his immediate release.
President Donald Trump said he would meet Pastor Brunson at the White House Oval Office at 2.30pm. Asked if US sanctions imposed on Turkey to try to win his release might be lifted, Mr Trump said no agreement was made for the pastor's freedom. "There was no deal made at all. There was no deal. But we're very happy to have him and have him in good shape," Mr Trump said.
However, he thanked his Turkish counterpart, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for his help in the case of Pastor Brunson.
"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!" he tweeted.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE