American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was freed earlier by a Turkish court after two years in detention, on Friday flew out of Turkey bound for Germany from where he would continue home to the United States, his Turkish lawyer said.
The White House said US pastor Brunson will land at joint base Andrews in Maryland at about noon on Saturday.
US president Donald Trump said Brunson will visit the white house oval office, likely on Saturday.
“We’re grateful to the president, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson,” said lawyer Jay Sekulow in a statement. “The fact that he is now on a plane to the United States can only be viewed as a significant victory for Pastor Brunson and his family.”
US president Donald Trump said in a tweet on the heels of the news regarding the pastor release, that his thoughts and prayers are with pastor Brunson, hoping "to have him safely back home soon!"
When asked about possibility of removing sanctions on Turkey, Trump says there was no deal for Brunson’s release.
Earlier on Friday, a Turkish court ruled to release the US pastor at the center of a bitter diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, a move that could be the first step towards mending ties between the NATO allies.
The court passed a 3 years and 1-1/2 month sentence on Brunson, who had been charged with terrorism offences, but said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016.
Witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced. Before the judge’s ruling, the pastor told the court: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”
Working very hard on Pastor Brunson!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
The case against Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years and was arrested two years ago, had led to US tariffs against Turkey and drawn condemnation from President Donald Trump.
Brunson was charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release.
Earlier, witnesses told the court that testimonies attributed to them against the pastor were inaccurate, heightening expectations that Brunson could be released and returned to the United States.
Brunson appeared in the courtroom in the western coastal town of Aliaga wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie. His wife Norine looked on from the visitors’ seating area as he listened to testimony from defense and prosecution witnesses.
“I do not understand how this is related to me,” Brunson said after the judge questioned one of a series of witnesses. He said the judge was asking the witness about incidents Brunson was not involved in.
The lira was little changed on the day. It had firmed 3 percent on Thursday on expectations that he would be released. It stood at 5.910 at 1336 GMT.
Parents of pastor rejoice back
Meanwhile, the parents of the rejoiced on Friday on learning that a court ordered their son to be released.
“They have?” she said, her voice quavering. “Well we were at an all-night prayer meeting during the trial and we got home and we fell asleep. We were up all night. Praise God! I’m so excited! Oh that’s wonderful! Thank you so much for letting us know. We’re so happy.”
She brought her husband, Ron, near the phone as the reporter read aloud some of a published Reuters report about the proceedings in Turkey.
“We are overjoyed that God has answered the prayers of so many people around the world,” she said.