BREAKING NEWS : Indiana coronavirus cases increase to 116,549; 3,351 deaths Full Story

Who is Andrew Brunson, the detained pastor central to the US-Turkey dispute?

The Trump administration's threats to issue economic sanctions against Turkey late last week rapidly escalated increa...

Posted: Jul 30, 2018 9:01 AM
Updated: Jul 30, 2018 9:01 AM

The Trump administration's threats to issue economic sanctions against Turkey late last week rapidly escalated increasing tensions between the two countries.

And at the center of this international incident is one man: a detained American pastor named Andrew Brunson.

To Turkey, Brunson is a spy who attempted to overthrow the government during a 2016 coup attempt. But to US officials, Brunson is an innocent Christian family man who is being wrongfully detained.

The debate has strained relations between the NATO allies and raised the possibility of significant sanctions and further threats. So who exactly is Brunson, and how did the pastor become a key figure in US-Turkey relations?

Evangelical Presbyterian pastor

Brunson, 50, is a native of North Carolina and an evangelical Presbyterian pastor who worked in Izmir on Turkey's Aegean coast, where he was a pastor at the Izmir Resurrection Church.

He has lived in Turkey for more than 23 years with his wife and three children, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an organization led by attorney Jay Sekulow that has advocated for his release.

But in October 2016, several months after a failed coup attempt in Turkey, Brunson was arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the Turkish government.

He was formally indicted in March on charges of espionage and having links to terrorist organizations. The charges against Brunson include supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party as well as the Gulen Movement, which Turkey says orchestrated the coup attempt.

Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted. His trial is set to resume in October.

The ACLJ says that the charges are not legitimate and that Brunson was arrested primarily because of his Christian faith. US officials, including US Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass, similarly said the accusations have no merit.

"He appears to be being held simply because he's an American citizen who as a man of faith was in contact with a range of people in this country who he was trying to help, in keeping with his faith," Bass said in October 2017.

Turkey released Brunson to house arrest on Wednesday and ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device. State-run news agency Anadolu reports the Turkish court decision was due to his "health problems."

Several US officials praised the release to house arrest but maintain that he should be fully released.

"We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week.

Trump administration threatens sanctions

Even before last week's move to house arrest, the White House has repeatedly pushed for Brunson's release in conversations with Turkish officials. That push has since escalated to threats of economic sanctions.

Trump has tweeted about Brunson three separate times from his personal account, including twice in the past two weeks. The first of those came in April, when Trump tweeted that Brunson was being "persecuted in Turkey for no reason."

"They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!"

On July 18, Trump said it was a "total disgrace" that Turkey won't release Brunson, he wrote in a tweet that tagged Erdogan's account.

"A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long," Trump said.

Finally, on Thursday, Trump tweeted that the US will impose "large sanctions" on Turkey for their detainment of Brunson, "a great Christian family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!"

Vice President Mike Pence similarly said that the US will impose "significant sanctions" on Turkey until Brunson is released.

"I know that his faith will sustain him, but it shouldn't have to," Pence said at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. "Pastor Andrew Brunson deserves to be free."

Turkish officials have sharply criticized the US threats of sanctions.

"No one dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception," Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on his official Twitter account Thursday.

Hami Aksoy, the spokesperson of Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the threats were "unacceptable." and disregarded the US-Turkey alliance.

"It is impossible to accept the U.S. Administration's threatening messages, which totally disregard our alliance and friendly relations between our countries," Aksoy said.

Pompeo said Friday that he spoke with Cavusoglu and "underscored that it is well past time for this innocent Pastor Andrew Brunson to come home."

Possible prisoner swap

Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Brunson "is not a hostage," he has made comments raising the possibility of a prisoner swap for Brunson.

Erdogan in May questioned why the US was asking for Brunson's release even as the US refused to extradite Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is an exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government accuses of being behind the failed coup attempt.

"(Gulen's) being harbored there. And he's not a convict. He's not even being detained," Erdogan said. "And we demand his extradition, and he's not being extradited to us. But there is a Pastor Brunson here, who is being currently prosecuted -- and he's allegedly associated with terrorist organizations. And you're asking for him?"

Last fall, Erdogan raised Gulen's extradition in a televised speech that suggested Gulen and Brunson could be swapped.

"'Give us the pastor back,' they say. Well, you have a pastor as well. Give that one back to us, then we will give (Brunson) back to you," Erdogan said.

Erdogan's comments "created the perception that Brunson was illegally arrested as a bargaining chip," according to Fadi Hakura, who manages the Turkey Project at Chatham House in London.

Brunson's release to house arrest on Wednesday came after Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assist in his release, Israeli and US officials told CNN.

A senior US official told CNN that in exchange for Turkey's release of Brunson, Israel agreed to release Ebru Ozkan, a 27-year-old Turkish woman held in Israel on suspicion of aiding Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza.

Ozkan was released from prison between July 11 and 12, a lawyer for Ozkan told CNN. She was able to leave Israel for Turkey on July 15, one day after Trump spoke with Netanyahu.

Erdogan denied on Sunday reports that Brunson was released in exchange for allowing Ozkan to leave Israel.

"We told the Americans that they could help us with getting Ebru. ... But we never said: 'and in exchange we will give you Brunson,'" Erdogan said, according to state broadcaster TRT.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115407

Reported Deaths: 3566
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21196765
Lake10493323
Elkhart6528110
St. Joseph6392106
Allen6178202
Hamilton4848109
Vanderburgh360930
Hendricks2715123
Monroe256036
Tippecanoe239113
Johnson2305123
Clark221457
Porter213647
Delaware194262
Cass19419
Vigo182526
Madison164375
LaPorte142340
Floyd135862
Howard130563
Warrick128038
Kosciusko121617
Bartholomew116457
Marshall100824
Dubois96919
Boone96846
Hancock92143
Grant91934
Noble90832
Henry79826
Wayne75414
Jackson7499
Morgan71638
Shelby67229
Daviess66328
Dearborn66028
LaGrange63411
Clinton59914
Harrison57624
Putnam56412
Knox5159
Gibson5114
Lawrence51129
Montgomery50821
White48514
DeKalb47611
Decatur45839
Miami4353
Greene42435
Fayette42113
Jasper3942
Steuben3807
Scott37311
Sullivan33712
Posey3240
Jennings31312
Franklin30725
Clay3005
Ripley2968
Orange28824
Carroll27413
Whitley2707
Washington2651
Wabash2648
Starke2637
Adams2613
Wells2614
Jefferson2483
Spencer2413
Fulton2382
Huntington2363
Tipton22622
Perry22113
Randolph2167
Jay1800
Newton17311
Owen1681
Martin1640
Rush1554
Pike1471
Vermillion1280
Fountain1232
Blackford1193
Pulaski1131
Crawford1050
Brown1043
Parke962
Benton880
Ohio787
Union780
Switzerland690
Warren391
Unassigned0226

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 148894

Reported Deaths: 4734
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin26704607
Cuyahoga17375656
Hamilton13036315
Montgomery7755162
Lucas7280364
Butler5933111
Summit5265252
Marion308847
Mahoning3053281
Warren302349
Stark2838175
Pickaway264344
Lorain230786
Delaware223120
Fairfield208753
Columbiana192980
Licking191063
Trumbull1883132
Wood184172
Clark179440
Clermont170723
Lake161951
Medina146039
Greene144432
Allen143069
Miami142851
Portage113266
Mercer111918
Erie93546
Tuscarawas93020
Wayne92767
Ross87924
Richland86119
Madison81512
Darke79942
Belmont71827
Geauga71349
Hancock69510
Athens6692
Ashtabula65748
Lawrence65322
Shelby62510
Auglaize5979
Putnam58523
Sandusky56320
Huron5427
Union5292
Scioto4986
Seneca47014
Ottawa46830
Preble43315
Muskingum4012
Holmes3859
Jefferson3364
Henry31213
Logan3093
Champaign3043
Perry2969
Clinton29413
Defiance28911
Brown2882
Knox28415
Washington26023
Morrow2572
Hardin25213
Jackson2506
Fulton2411
Ashland2374
Crawford2366
Coshocton23411
Fayette2306
Highland2273
Wyandot21012
Williams2073
Gallia18913
Pike1840
Meigs17410
Guernsey1698
Hocking1639
Carroll1527
Adams1294
Van Wert1173
Monroe11018
Paulding1080
Harrison633
Morgan470
Vinton473
Noble280
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Scattered Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 73°
Angola
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 75°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 71°
Decatur
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 73°
Van Wert
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 73°
Warm, Summer-Like Weekend
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events