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Pro-gov’t daily claims jailed US pastor knew about coup attempt 6 years ago

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The pro-government Yeni Asır daily claimed on Thursday that it had acquired an audio recording in which American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed in Turkey since October 2016, speaks back in 2010 about a coup attempt that would take place in 2016.

The daily said Brunson, who is in pretrial detention in an İzmir prison, talks to a young adult six years ago and implies that there will be a coup in the summer of 2016. Brunson also gives him a survival kit for use during an emergency, including a water purifier, high-calorie pills to be used in the event of a lack of food and mufflers worn by US Special Forces.

According to the report, Brunson says: “There will be a huge earthquake [in Turkey] in the summer months of 2016. Hide those things [the survival kit] in a place you can reach [in difficult times]. And meet me at US Consulate General in İstanbul after that earthquake.”

The daily also said the audio recording, which was not published on the website, explains a question posed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who asked, “How did these spies infiltrate the [US] consulate general?” as part of an ongoing row with the US.

Metin Topuz, a staff member of the US Consulate General in İstanbul, was arrested on Oct. 4 on espionage charges and alleged links to some leading members of the faith-based Gülen movement. Local media on Monday revealed that Turkish authorities issued a detention warrant for another US Consulate employee over alleged Gülen movement links on Sunday morning. Police were unable to detain him because he has remained in the consulate building.

Speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul on Friday, US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass said some in the Turkish government are motivated by “vengeance rather than justice,” voicing concern at coverage in pro-government media outlets of the arrest of Topuz.

The US Embassy in Ankara on Sunday announced that it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic missions in Turkey.

The Gülen movement is a global civil society movement inspired by the views of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and President Erdoğan accuse of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite Gülen’s repeated denials of any involvement.

Speaking during a press conference with his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, in Belgrade on Tuesday, Erdoğan said Topuz and another staff member for whom a detention warrant has been issued by Turkish authorities were spies and added that they were also accused of ties to the Gülen movement.

Underling that the recent detention and warrants for staff members of the US Consulate General in İstanbul show that some spying was going on, Erdoğan asked: “How did these spies infiltrate the American consulate? If they didn’t infiltrate it, who put them there?”

American pastor Brunson, who was jailed due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, was charged with acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrow the Turkish Parliament.

In May, a statement released by the White House also said Trump asked for Brunson’s release three times and his immediate deportation to the US during a meeting with Erdoğan.

Brunson, a North Carolina native, has been in custody since October after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years.

Brunson’s wife, Norine, was soon released, but the pastor remained in custody and soon saw his charges upgraded to terrorism. Prosecutors have suggested in court hearings that Brunson is being held on suspicion of being a follower of Gülen.

During a police academy graduation ceremony in Ankara in late September, Erdoğan had said: “They want a pastor [Andrew Brunson] from us, you have a pastor [Fethullah Gülen], too. Extradite him so that we can prosecute him.”

In response to Erdoğan, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said “I can’t imagine that we would go down that road.”

In terms of Fethullah Gülen, who is here in the United States, we have received several requests for his extradition from the Turkish government related to him,” said Nauert, adding: “We continue to evaluate it, take a look at the materials that the Turkish government has provided us. I don’t have anything new for you on the subject of that.”

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