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Pastor Andrew Brunson

The White House announced Wednesday that the U.S. Treasury Department is imposing sanctions on two key Turkish officials in response to the continued detention of American pastor Andrew Craig Brunson.

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Turkey’s Justice Minister, Abdulhamit Gul, and Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, have both been deeply involved in the bodies responsible for Bruson’s arrest and detention.

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The evangelical pastor, who has lived for more than 20 years in Turkey, was arrested and jailed in December 2016. He was imprisoned on terror and espionage charges more than a year and a half ago. Brunson, a native of Black Mountain, North Carolina, led the Izmir Resurrection Church. His arrest came in the aftermath of a failed 2016 coup attempt against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Bruson was accused of allegedly supporting outlawed Kurdish rebels and a network led by U.S.-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

But the arrest actually followed the U.S. refusal to extradite the Turkish cleric to the Erdogan regime. Gulen, who once was a friend of Erdogan but in recent years has been perceived as threat to his autocratic rule, is a long-time resident of the United States.

The pastor, 50, was released to house arrest earlier this month, but not freed in what the Trump administration had been led to believe was to have been a “prisoner swap” with Israel, in which the Jewish State released a Turkish citizen who was being held on suspicion of incitement and terrorist activity.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Turkey last week that there would be possible “large sanctions” against America’s NATO ally, in retaliation for Ankara’s continued detention of Brunson.

But Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in response that the U.S. could use sanctions to make Turkey back down.

On Wednesday, Erdogan slammed the U.S. over the issue, according to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency. “Turkey has no problems related to [religious] minorities. Threatening language of the US evangelist, Zionist mentality is unacceptable,” Erdogan told journalists in parliament on Wednesday, railing against U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s accusation that Brunson was a victim of religious persecution.

Several days later, a Turkish court rejected an appeal by the pastor, asking to be released from house arrest as his trial continues on terror and espionage charges.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.