Freed US pastor Andrew Brunson to return home from Turkey in military plane; Trump hails move

US pastor Andrew Brunson. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION Web Team Ankara, Turkey Oct 12, 2018, 09.10 PM (IST)

US pastor Andrew Brunson who was in detention in Turkey said he was returning home to the United States.

Also Read: Turkey court sentences US pastor to over 3 years in jail but allows him to go free

"This is the day our family has been praying for - I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States," Brunson said in a statement.

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President Trump hailed the move announcing on Twitter that he will be home soon.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!", the US president declared.

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Brunson on his part thanked President Trump saying: "My entire family thanks the president, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support."

Before the judge's ruling, the pastor told the court: "I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey."

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the US military has a plan to fly Brunson back to America on a military aircraft today. A Pentagon spokeswoman told Reuters that the expected plan involved flying Brunson through Germany on the way back to America but did not specify timing.

Turkey had imprisoned Brunson to three years and a half years in prison over terrorism charges two years ago. He was placed under house arrest in July as President Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey over the issue. The pastor lived in Turkey for over 20 years.

The United States had announced the imposition of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium and sanctions on two Turkish ministers in the wake of the disputes over Brunson.

Turkey and US relations deteriorated as the Erdogan government decided to keep the US pastor in the country as President Trump imposed stringent sanctions leading the Lira to crash dramatically. The Turkish economy collapsed as a result even as President Erodgan went on the defensive.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo waded into the controversy asserting that it would be a "humanitarian thing" for Turkey to free Brunson.

Brunson was charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt two years ago. Brunson emphatically denied the charge. He faced maximum 35 years in prison if found guilty.

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Before the judge's ruling, the pastor told the court: "I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey."