North Korea Says It Is Holding U.S. Student Over Hostile Act

  • Claim follows North Korea's fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6
  • Another man told CNN earlier he was detained U.S. citizen

North Korea says it detained a U.S. university student for allegedly trying to overthrow the country under the “manipulation” of his government, the second alleged foreign spy to be announced since the regime conducted its fourth nuclear test early this month.

Warmbier Otto Frederick of “Virginia University of the U.S.” entered North Korea as a tourist and is being investigated after conducting hostile activities against the country, the official Korean Central News Agency said Friday in its English-language report.

The announcement comes amid an impasse between North Korea and the U.S. after the isolated nation detonated what it claims to be a hydrogen bomb on Jan. 6. The U.S. is working with South Korea and Japan to draw up tougher United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea, while the Kim Jong Un regime says it will continue to develop nuclear weapons and should be treated as a nuclear-armed power.

The student sought to bring down the foundation of North Korea’s “single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation,” KCNA said, citing relevant authorities. It didn’t say when he entered North Korea or exactly what he did.

“We are aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in an e-mailed statement. “In cases where U.S. citizens are reported detained in North Korea, we work closely with the Swedish Embassy, which serves as the United States’ protecting power in North Korea. We have no further information to share due to privacy considerations.”

Earlier this month a man named Kim Dong Chul told CNN in an interview organized by authorities in Pyongyang that he is a U.S. citizen who spied on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements” before his arrest in North Korea in October. South Korea’s intelligence agency has denied any links to the man. Last year, North Korea released a New York University student with South Korean citizenship after holding him for months for illegal entry.

North Korea has used detained U.S. nationals in the past as a way to draw prominent American figures such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter into Pyongyang as mediators to open dialogue with Washington. North Korea last month sentenced a Canadian pastor to life imprisonment for what it called a plot to overthrow the state. The U.S. has no diplomatic mission in the capital and is represented by the Swedish embassy.

Tension remains high along the border between North Korea and South Korea after the nuclear test. South Korea has resumed propaganda broadcasts against the Kim regime in the demilitarized zone and the U.S. has flown a B-52 bomber south of the border in a show of force against the Pyongyang government. In return, North Korea has floated about a million propaganda leaflets denouncing the South Korean and U.S. presidents over the border.

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