US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal

"'Give us the pastor back', they say". Another witness for the prosecution said she did not know Brunson.

A Turkish court set free U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson after holding him in prison for nearly two years, removing a key source of tension between Turkey and the United States.

President Donald Trump talks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they arrive for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels, July 11, 2018.

"There wasn't any evidence whatsoever" against him, Lauren Brunson said, "and as a family we are just glad it's over".

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".

The Trump administration has, however said that it remains "hopeful" that the pastor will be freed at today's hearing.

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". Turkey has unsuccessfully pressed the extradite Gulen, who denies involvement in the coup attempt.

American officials were quoted as saying that the U.S. military has a plan to fly the pastor back to America on a military aircraft.

"We are grateful for the President's commitment and efforts in securing my release", Brunson said in a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been working to secure his release. The court said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016.

Despite pressure from the Trump administration, Mr Erdogan has insisted that he has no sway over the judiciary and the courts will decide Mr Brunson's fate.

President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey after Ankara refused to release Brunson in August. "Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!"

Norine Brunson, centre, the wife of Andrew Brunson, outside the courthouse at Aliaga in Izmir, Turkey. Deniz Yucel, the former correspondent of Die Welt, who was imprisoned and then finally freed in Turkey, had the German government supporting him.

Brunson, 50, has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years.

Earlier on Friday, a Turkish court ruled to release the USA pastor at the center of a bitter diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, a move that could be the first step towards mending ties between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

Prosecutors accuse Brunson of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups, linking him to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a US-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt.

Turkish officials have told their American counterparts for years that Ankara wants to buy the US-made Patriot air defence system, but that the Turkish government has grown increasingly sceptical about the transaction ever taking place. U.S. support for Kurdish forces fighting the Syrian civil war has also angered Mr Erdogan, who views them as an extension of the PKK.

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