North Korea has detained a U.S. college student who was traveling in the country as a tourist, charging him with committing an unspecified “hostile act” against the reclusive, nuclear-armed state and threatening the “unity” of its people, official media said on Friday.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21 and an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, was taken into custody on Jan. 2 as he prepared to leave Pyongyang at the end of a five-day visit arranged by China-based Young Pioneer Tours during the New Year, sources said.
North Korean authorities have accused Warmbier of entering North Korea “for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity” and with having committed an unspecified “hostile act,” according to a report by the [North] Korean Central News Agency.
Reasons for the long delay in announcing Warmbier’s detention were not immediately clear, but North Korea has frequently used detained foreign visitors as bargaining chips in efforts to secure diplomatic concessions, and the U.S. is currently seeking sanctions in the U.N. against North Korea following its Jan. 6 nuclear test.
In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said without naming Warmbier that it was “aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea.”
“In cases where U.S. citizens are reported detained in North Korea, we work closely with the Swedish Embassy [in Pyongyang],” which represents U.S. interests in the country, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said.
“We have no further information to share due to privacy considerations,” Toner said.