U.S. Pastor Officially Charged With Aiding Turkey's Top Enemies

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey has charged an American pastor with working to divide the Turkish republic and stir internal chaos by inciting hatred based on religious and ethnic differences, a move sure to deepen strains with the U.S.

Andrew Brunson, imprisoned in Turkey since a 2016 coup attempt, faces a maximum of 35 years in prison for pursuing goals of two of Ankara’s sworn enemies, state-run Anadolu news agency reported: U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of masterminding the botched putsch, and the autonomy-seeking Kurdish PKK group, branded a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Turkey.

U.S. Pastor Officially Charged With Aiding Turkey's Top Enemies

Brunson is also accused of allegedly acting together with a group of military and intelligence personnel against the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and obtaining classified information with the aim of political and military espionage, Anadolu said, citing the indictment. The pastor denies any wrongdoing.

The charges add to a series of disputes already hurting Turkey’s relations with Washington. These include a Turkish offensive against Kurdish separatists across the border in Syria, which threatens to entangle U.S. forces there. The Pentagon warned on Monday that the campaign could escalate and hurt the U.S.-led offensive against Islamic State.

The indictment accuses Brunson of engaging in activities “to exploit ethnic and religious differences to divide our country, dismantle it and incite internal unrest,” Anadolu reported. The pastor also is accused of proselytizing in the predominantly Muslim country and acting like a member of a guerrilla group under the guise of an Evangelical church pastor, it added.

In addition, Brunson is alleged to have provided humanitarian aid, training and education in coordination with the PKK and Gulen’s outlawed network, it said.

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