A University of Virginia male student was arrested for what North Korea officials Friday called a "hostile act" orchestrated by the U.S. government to undermine the authoritarian nation.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, was detained Jan. 2 at the Pyongyang airport as he prepared to leave after a five-day trip over the New Year's holiday, said Gareth Johnson of Young Pioneer Tours, the agency that organized the trip, reports The Washington Post. However, Warmbier's detention was not made public until Friday, when Korean news outlets stated he was being questioned about taking part in "anti-state activity."
His detention occurred four days before North Korea conducted its latest nuclear test, and makes Warmbier the third Westerner known to be held in North Korea. North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners, and the U.S. and Canadian governments advise against travel there.
Mirroring past North Korean claims about conspiracies, the Chicago Tribune reports Pyongyang's state media claimed the student entered the country under the guise of a tourist, and plotted to destroy North Korean unity with "the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation."
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Frederick, was "arrested while perpetrating a hostile act," but didn't state when he was detained or explain the nature of the act.
Details of Warmbier's trip to North Korea are not immediately apparent, reports The Washington Post. However, the newspaper staff indicated the Cincinnati, Ohio, native was known for his adventurous streak.
Warmbier's Facebook page shows him driving a vintage car in Havana last May. His most recent profile photo - posing with a cow - "captures my compassion for animals, worldly travels, and designer sunglasses," he wrote.
Warmbier also had visited Ireland and Israel, according to his Facebook profile.
Johnson said China-based Young Pioneer Tours was in contact with Warmbier's family and U.S. officials.
"We are in touch with Otto's family, the U.S. State Department and the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang and doing all we can to secure his release," Johnson told Reuters.
In the past, Pyongyang has used detained U.S. citizens to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.
Warmbier was on Young Pioneer's "New Year's Party Tour", which, according to the itinerary on the company's website, was to include watching fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square in the heart of Pyongyang, and an optional helicopter ride.
A South Korean-born Canadian pastor was arrested in North Korea last year and given a life sentence for subversion. Earlier this month, a Korean-American man told CNN in Pyongyang that he was being held by the state for spying.