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.


Washington says observation posts in place on Syria-Turkey border

This Wednesday, April 4, 2018, file photo shows a US position, installed near the tense front line between the US-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria.(AP)
Updated 59 min 34 sec ago
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Washington says observation posts in place on Syria-Turkey border

  • The measure aimed to reassure the YPG, which Turkey considers a "terrorist" group but which is the spearhead of the international fight against the Daesh group
  • Syria's long-oppressed Kurdish minority has established a semi-autonomous region in the north of the war-torn country

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon announced Tuesday that American observation posts in northern Syria, meant to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and US-supported Kurdish militia, have been erected, despite Ankara's request to scrap the move.
US support for the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) has strained relations with Turkey, which fears the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region on its southern border.
"At the direction of Secretary (James) Mattis, the US established observation posts in the northeast Syria border region to address the security concerns of our NATO ally Turkey," Department of Defense spokesman Rob Manning said.
Mattis announced in November that the US military was in the process of installing the observation posts.
The measure aimed to reassure the YPG, which Turkey considers a "terrorist" group but which is the spearhead of the international fight against the Daesh group.
"We take Turkish security concerns seriously and we are committed to coordinating our efforts with Turkey to bring stability to northeastern Syria," Manning added.
The Turkish army since 2016 has already launched two military operations against Kurdish forces in Syria, the last of which saw Ankara-backed Syrian rebels take the border city of Afrin in March.
After Turkey shelled Kurdish militia posts in northern Syria in late October the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the YPG is the backbone, announced the suspension of their operations against Daesh for several days, to the embarrassment of Washington.
During a meeting with US Special Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, in Ankara on Friday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had asked that Washington scrap the observation posts.
Akar also called for the US to end its cooperation with the YPG.
Syria's long-oppressed Kurdish minority has established a semi-autonomous region in the north of the war-torn country.