US pastor Andrew Craig Brunson escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers arrives at his house on July 25, 2018 in Izmir. - Turkey on July 15, 2018 moved from jail to house arrest US pastor Andrew Brunson who has spent almost two years imprisoned on terror-related charges, in a controversial case that has ratcheted up tensions with the United States. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, was first detained in October 2016 and had remained in prison in Turkey ever since. (Photo by - / AFP)        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
US pastor released from Turkish detention
01:37 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The Trump administration’s threats to issue economic sanctions against Turkey late last week rapidly escalated increasing tensions between the two countries.

To Turkey, Brunson was a spy who attempted to overthrow the government during a 2016 coup attempt. But to US officials, he was a Christian family man who was wrongfully detained.

The debate strained relations between the two nations and raised the possibility of significant sanctions and further threats. So who exactly is Brunson, and how did the pastor become a key figure in US-Turkey relations?

Brunson is from North Carolina

Brunson, 50, is a native of North Carolina and an evangelical Presbyterian pastor who worked at a church in Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast.

He lived in Turkey for more than 23 years with his wife and three children, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, an organization that advocated for his release.

But in October 2016, months after a failed coup attempt in Turkey, he was arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the government. The center said Brunson was arrested primarily because of his Christian faith, and US officials also said the accusations had no merit.

Brunson was formally indicted in March on charges of espionage and having links to terrorist organizations. The charges included supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party as well as the Gulen Movement, which Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt.