An American pastor detained for two years in Turkey on charges of espionage and aiding terrorist groups is heading home. A Turkish court on Friday allowed the release of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who lived for more than 20 years in Turkey before he was jailed in the 2016 crackdown that followed a failed coup, accused of links to alleged orchestrator Fethullah Gulen and Kurdish militants. Facing up to 35 years in prison, the North Carolina native was handed a three-year sentence on Friday but ordered released considering his time served, reports Reuters. Under house arrest since July, Brunson had declared his innocence at Friday’s hearing and cried as the judgment was read.
It came a day after NBC News reported that a secret deal between Washington and Ankara would secure Brunson's release around the time of the hearing. The deal included lifting some sanctions imposed and threatened by President Trump, per the Washington Post. However, the State Department later said it was unaware of such a deal. "PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!" reads a tweet from Trump. According to NBC News, the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, says Brunson has already boarded a plane to the US. Reuters adds that Brunson's release could help the president score points with evangelicals ahead of next month's midterms. (Read more Turkey stories.)