Turkey threatens to retaliate as US slaps sanctions on its ministers

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim

Ankara has threatened to retaliate after Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey's justice and interior ministers over the case of an American pastor as it warned the actions could damage ties.

"There is no doubt that this will greatly damage constructive efforts working to solve the issues between the two countries," the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

"Without delay, there will be a response to this aggressive attitude that will not serve any purpose," the ministry added.

"We call on the US administration to turn back from this wrong decision." Pastor Andrew Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, is at the centre of one of the most bitter diplomatic spats between the NATO allies.

Brunson was held for nearly two years in prison on terror-related charges before he was moved last week to house arrest. US officials said at the time that it was not enough and threatened to take measures against Turkey.

Washington then slapped sanctions on Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu yesterday.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said both men "played leading roles in the arrest and detention of Pastor Brunson".

Relations between the NATO allies were already strained by Washington's support for a Syrian Kurdish militia viewed as terrorists by Ankara and the failure to extradite the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen blamed for the 2016 failed coup.

Gul on Twitter later dismissed the sanctions, saying that he had no assets abroad.

"I have neither a tree planted nor one penny in the US or any other country outside of Turkey," Gul said.

Brunson's lawyer appealed to an Izmir court this week for his release but it was rejected.

Brunson risks up to 35 years in jail over charges that he acted on behalf of two groups viewed as terrorists by Ankara: the movement led by Gulen and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

His next trial hearing is due on October 12.

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