Former NASA scientist Serkan Golge, detained on terrorism charges in Turkey, is back on American soil for the first time in four years. The Turkish-American arrived with his family in Washington early Tuesday, some seven months after President Trump said he'd secured a deal for his release, per the New York Times. "He'll be coming back at some point in the not-too-distant future," Trump said at a White House briefing with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in November. The 40-year-old Golge, who studied the effects of radiation on astronauts at NASA's Johnson Space Center, was detained in July 2016 while visiting his parents in Turkey's Hatay province, reports Science. One of some 20 Americans accused of involvement in an attempted coup against Erdogan, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on terrorism charges before being transferred to house arrest in May 2019.
Trump announced Golge would soon return to Houston, but Turkish officials only increased restrictions on his movements. "The last judicial controls were only finally lifted in April" and international flights only began again this month, per the Times. Golge returned to the US with his wife and two sons, all US citizens, who'd been barred from leaving Turkey as well. Through it all, Golge maintained his innocence. He believes authorities received a tip from a relative "with a history of disagreements with his immediate family," per Physics Today. He was convicted on the basis he had an account at a bank linked to the coup movement, and that a $1 bill—an apparent secret sign of membership—was found at his parents' home. Some see Golge as a bargaining chip, per Science. Erdogan hopes to thwart many US court cases, including one in which a state-owned bank allegedly helped Iran evade US sanctions. (Read more Turkey stories.)