US Pastor Held in Turkey Denies Links to Terrorists

American Pastor on Trial for Supporting Terror Groups Raises Tension Between US and Turkey

Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor held for more than a year in Turkey, goes on trial on Monday on charges of aiding terror groups in a case that has raised tensions between Washington and Ankara.

The 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina was arrested in December 2016 for alleged links to both an outlawed Kurdish insurgent group and the network of the USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison against the pastor for alleged crimes committed in the name of Gulen's group and the PKK, and a further 20 years for allegedly obtaining state secrets for political and military spying purposes using his religious work as cover.

"I've never done something against Turkey". I've been praying for Turkey for 25 years.

The couple ran a Christian church in the Aegean city of Izmir.

"I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I was never involved in any illegal activities", said Brunson, making his defense in Turkish.

Brunson's trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S. The United States has repeatedly asked Turkey to release him, including a demand from U.S. President Donald Trump to "expeditiously" return the pastor.

Gulen denies any association with the coup bid.

Erdogan fired back at Washington, demanding that the USA return Gulen to Turkey. Tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested or lost their jobs over alleged connections with the coup bid.

Andrew Brunson goes on trial on charges of aiding terror groups in a case that has raised tensions between Washington and Ankara. There have been growing signs of Western discomfort over the alliance of Turkey - a key North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member since 1952 - with Iran and Russian Federation over Syria.

Halavurt said on Sunday he believed Brunson would ultimately be acquitted and there was no reason for his continued detention during trial.

Furnari said she isn't sure why her father was arrested.

"We think we can debunk these claims tomorrow", Brunson's lawyer said.

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