In a blow, US sanctions top Turkish officials

In a blow, US sanctions top Turkish officials

WASHINGTON - The US Treasury Department on Wednesday hit Turkey s justice and interior ministers with sanctions over the case of an American pastor being tried on terror charges.

"We believe he s a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told journalists, referring to Andrew Brunson, an American pastor at the center of a bitter diplomatic spat between NATO allies Washington and Ankara.

Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, was placed under house arrest last week after nearly two years in jail.

"Pastor Brunson s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

"President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately."

Just after the sanctions announcement, the administration announced that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would meet his Turkish counterpart concerning Brunson.

The sanctions -- which Trump had threatened last week -- target Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.

The Trump administration says the pair oversaw the arrest and detention of Brunson and accused them of leading "Turkey s serious human rights abuses."

Trump had discussed the matter with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan multiple times, Sanders said.

Erdogan has insisted that sanction threats would not force Ankara to take a "step back."

Brunson was initially detained in October 2016 during Turkey s crackdown following an attempted putsch, accused of carrying out activities on behalf of two organizations Turkey considers terror groups: the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the movement supporting US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.

He faces upwards of 35 years in jail if convicted. - APP/AFP