Turkish FM claims freed US pastor is a ‘CIA agent’

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In a surprising statement, Turkish Foreign Minister Meblut Cavusoglu claimed at the Doha Forum on Sunday that US Pastor Andrew Brunson, who stood trial in Turkey over terrorism charges, is a CIA agent.

Cavusoglu’s statements have been ridiculed in the US, with some even calling it a joke.

“Everybody was focusing on this Pastor Brunson, who is also a CIA agent, I am also a very straightforward person like Erdogan, but it was a minor issue in our relations, we have more serious problems,” Cavusoglu said.

Cavusoglu is known for making controversial statements.

Brunson, who was freed in October by a Turkish court after two years in detention, was flown back to the US following his release.

The court had 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.”

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.

“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.