American pastor back in Turkey court for spying and terror trial

US pastor Andrew Brunson, center, sits inside a car as he arrives for his trial in Izmir, Turkey, early Friday, October 12. (DHA via AP)
Updated 12 October 2018
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American pastor back in Turkey court for spying and terror trial

  • The fourth hearing of the case against Andrew Brunson begins in a prison complex near the western city of Izmir
  • The pastor has been imprisoned for nearly two years

ALIAGA, Turkey: The trial of an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States resumes Friday in Turkey, with observers waiting to see if authorities will release him amid threats of further US sanctions.
The fourth hearing of the case against Andrew Brunson begins in a prison complex near the western city of Izmir. He arrived in a secured convoy before daybreak.
The evangelical pastor is accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years in jail if convicted.
Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, rejects the charges and strongly maintains his innocence. He is one of thousands caught up in a wide-scale government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.
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. The US maintains he is being held unjustly and has repeatedly called for his release.
On Thursday, a person involved in efforts to free Brunson told The Associated Press in Washington that the pastor could be released at the hearing. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because officials had not yet reached a final agreement on the release and it could still fall through.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that the US is hopeful he will soon go free but said she was unaware of any agreement on his release.
The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was imprisoned for nearly two years — detained in October 2016 and formally arrested in December that year — before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.
The court’s decision failed to improve tensions between the two NATO allies. Washington slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials and doubled tariff on Turkish steel and aluminum imports. Those moves in August, coupled with concerns over the government’s economic management, helped trigger a Turkish currency crisis.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resisted US demands for Brunson’s release, insisting that the courts are independent. But he had previously suggested a possible swap of Brunson and the Pennsylvania-resident Fethullah Gulen — the cleric accused of being behind the coup.
Brunson led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, with representatives monitoring the trial, has listed him as a “prisoner of conscience.”
William Devlin, an evangelical pastor from New York spoke to reporters outside the prison, saying hundreds of thousands of Christians are praying for Brunson’s release.
Brunson’s lawyer took the case to Turkey’s highest court last week seeking his release from house arrest.


US to send 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East

Updated 18 June 2019
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US to send 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East

DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced on Monday the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were “defensive purposes,” citing concerns about a threat from Iran.
“The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” Shanahan said in a statement.
Reuters first reported plans to send US additional troops to the Middle East earlier on Monday.
Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked, more than a year after President Donald Trump announced Washington was withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal, which a White House National Security Council spokesman said amounted to “nuclear blackmail.”