Erdogan suggests detained American pastor's release tied to wanted Muslim cleric

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested on Sept. 28 that a detained American pastor could be freed if the U.S. extradites a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric whose supporters are being held responsible for a failed coup in July 2016.

(REUTERS / Charles Mostoller)U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017.

Turkey wants the U.S. to hand over Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who is now residing in Pennsylvania. His supporters are being blamed for last year's failed military coup which left 250 people dead. However, the Muslim cleric has denied any involvement in the attempt to overthrow the Turkish government and the U.S. has also dismissed the allegation due to what it said was lack of evidence, Reuters detailed.

"'Give us the pastor back', they say. You have one pastor as well. Give him (Gulen) to us," Erdogan said in a speech to police officers on Thursday. "Then we will try him (Brunson) and give him to you."

He added: "The (pastor) we have is on trial. Yours is not - he is living in Pennsylvania. You can give him easily. You can give him right away."

The Turkish government launched a massive crackdown after the failed coup that resulted in the arrest of thousands including American pastor Andrew Brunson. The pastor, who has been detained since October, has been accused of being part of Gulen's network which Turkey considers as a terror organization.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has insisted that Brunson was wrongfully imprisoned. She added that they will most likely not go with a prisoner swap but will continue to advocate for the release of the detained American missionary.

Brunson, on the other hand, has been slapped with new charges which now include espionage on top of the previous terror charges. The pastor, who has been living in Turkey for 23 years, has denied all of the charges against him, the Christian Broadcasting Network reported.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Turkish government in August pressed four additional charges against Brunson which involve acquiring political and military secrets, and trying to do away with constitutional order and topple the Parliament. His legal representative Jay Sekulow told the publication that all the charges against him are false and added that the case has become extremely difficult because Turkey has sealed the records of his client's case.