American pastor Andrew Brunson released by Turkish court

Pastor Andrew Brunson is escorted by Turkish plainclothes police officers on July 25 in Izmir. More

Brunson is facing terrorism charges, which he denies.

The court dropped an espionage charge against Brunson, who had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him.

William Devlin, an evangelical pastor from NY spoke to reporters outside the prison, saying hundreds of thousands of Christians are praying for Brunson's release. Before the judge's ruling, the pastor told the court: "I am an innocent man".

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said on 28 August that Turkey had been eager to buy the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, but was once again rebuffed by the Americans.

Those key testimonies were thrown into doubt after today's hearing. Brunson has been leading a Christian congregation and mission in Turkey for two decades. He was moved from jail to house arrest at his home in the city of Izmir in July, in what was seen as a potential step toward his release. The day before the hearing, Jeffrey Hovenier, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, visited his home, staying for about 45 minutes.

Additionally, Turkey could now hope that the USA will lift tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, injecting some confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and a mountain of foreign currency debt.

Brunson also allegedly had information about a possible coup attempt before July 2016 as one of his text phone messages to a USA soldier showed his support for the coup plotters, the indictment said. The authorities accused him of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gulenist movement, which Turkey blames for the 2016 failed coup.

Turkey has demanded Gulen's extradition but so far USA officials say Turkey has not provided sufficient reason for US officials to extradite the cleric.

But in recent weeks, Brunson's release became the subject of talks "at the highest level" so that the U.S. and Turkey could move on to dealing with over issues facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, a United States diplomat told Middle East Eye. The new witnesses did not confirm Kalkan's accusations.

Smith said he had been up all night at home monitoring the court proceedings online, as had at least a few other members of the church's roughly 142,000 congregants.

Instead, Surer told the court, Kalkan had told him this. "I hear he's in very good shape", he added.

During his speech in an event in NY on 24 September, he said: "We will take steps, which are similar to the operations of Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, in the east of Euphrates in the forthcoming period".

"Whatever Erdogan says, there is a response", he said.

The pastor was imprisoned for almost two years before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

Mrs Brunson said: "The vice president contacted Norrine [Andrew's wife] and the White House has left a message on our phone". "I want to thank the Trump administration, President Trump and Vice President Pence".

"My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!" he tweeted. "It's been an extremely hard time for our family and we want to express our appreciation to the millions of people around the world who have faithfully prayed for this day".

Mr Brunson's wife, Norine, looked on from the visitors' area. He has called Brunson a "great Christian", and Vice President Mike Pence, the White House's top emissary to evangelicals, had urged Americans to pray for Brunson.

The trial comes as Turkey and the United States are embroiled in another major diplomatic incident regarding a Saudi writer - US resident Jamal Khashoggi - who disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week.

But the source cautioned that Brunson has appeared close to release before.

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