American pastor Andrew Brunson freed from Turkish custody

American pastor Andrew Brunson freed from Turkish custody
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The White House reached a deal with Turkish authorities for the Friday release of Andrew Brunson, a U.S.-born pastor jailed in Turkey on charges of terrorism.

Brunson, who was charged by Turkey with aiding a 2016 coup attempt against Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, charges the U.S. calls baseless, was reportedly put on a flight to Germany for medical evaluation Friday morning and will then return home to the U.S.


President TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE confirmed Brunson's release on Twitter, touting the event in a pair of short messages.

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

"PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!" he added about 30 minutes later in a second tweet.

Brunson had been jailed for years as part of Turkey's response to his alleged involvement in the coup attempt, and his internment had sparked criticism of the NATO ally from Christians in the U.S. and around the world.

The two countries traded economic blows over Brunson's imprisonment, with the Trump administration announcing sanctions on a pair of top Turkish officials in August and Turkey retaliating days later against top officials in the U.S.

The status of those sanctions following Brunson's release remains unclear, and the White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

A senior administration official had indicated Thursday to NBC News that a deal was forthcoming, and again maintained Brunson's innocence regarding the coup.

"We continue to believe Pastor Brunson is innocent, and the hearing on Friday is another opportunity for the Turkish judicial system to free an American citizen," a senior administration official said.

News of Brunson's release sparked praise on social media from Republicans and Trump supporters, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMSNBC's Joy Reid pans Manchin, Sinema as the 'no progress caucus' Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (R-S.C.), who warned that celebration before Brunson's physical return to the U.S. was premature.

“I’m pleased, [but] I’m not going to celebrate until he gets home," Graham told Fox News. "I want to thank the Trump administration, President Trump and Vice President Pence.”

"The release of pastor Andrew Brunson is an answer to the prayers of millions of Christians around the world," tweeted Russell Moore, director of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 

"We pray that this crisis will remind us to continue to pray for those imprisoned by oppressive regimes around the world because of their religious faith," he added.

Friday's release of the pastor coincides with sharply increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States concerning the disappearance in Turkey of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post journalist last seen entering a Saudi consulate.

Turkish investigators probing Khashoggi's disappearance have in recent days reportedly shared with U.S. counterparts the contents of video and audio recordings that support the claim that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi personnel.