Israel releases Turkish woman accused of terrorism in bid to free American pastor held by Turkey


(JTA) — A Turkish woman arrested by Israel for allegedly transferring money to the terrorist group Hamas reportedly as part of a deal to free an American pastor from Turkish custody.

Ebru Ozkan, 27, was released earlier this week, a week after her indictment, and deported to Turkey, despite her upcoming trial. The charges against her, including posing a national security threat and ties to a terrorist organization, were not dropped. Legal proceedings against Ozkan reportedly have been suspended because she “cannot be located” in Turkey.

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a July 14 phone call to let Ozkan go in order to secure the release of Andrew Brunson, a pastor who has been held in prison in Turkey for nearly two years.

Ozkan was allowed to leave Israel for Turkey on July 15, a day after the phone call between Trump and Netanyahu. She had been detained June 11 at Ben-Gurion Airport as she was leaving Israel to return to Turkey.

On July 18, a Turkish court rejected an appeal by Brunson’s lawyers to allow him to go free. But a week later he was released to house arrest and ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device.

Brunson, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for 20 years, was arrested in 2016 during the Turkish government’s crackdown following a coup attempt. In March, he was formally charged with espionage and having links to terrorist organizations. If convicted, he faces prison time of up to 35 years.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday from South Africa that Turkey’s judiciary had put Brunson under house arrest because the pastor was having health problems. He is not permitted to leave Turkey.

Erdogan denied that there had been a deal involving the United States and Israel, though he acknowledged that Turkey had asked for U.S. assistance in freeing Ozkan.

“But we never said ‘and in exchange we will give you Brunson,'” Erdogan told the state broadcaster TRT.

An unnamed Israeli official confirmed to The Washington Post that Trump had asked Netanyahu to allow Ozkan go free as part of a trade that would achieve Brunson’s release.

Trump in a tweet Thursday threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey for continuing to detain Brunson.

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