North Korea said Friday that it had arrested an American college student for allegedly committing “anti-state” acts.
The report by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) identfied the person as Otto Frederick Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia. It claimed that he entered the North as a tourist with a plot to undermine a unity among the North Koreans. It said Warmbier has links to the U.S. government.
The University of Virginia’s website listed Warmbier as an undergraduate studying commerce. A LinkedIn page attributed to Warmbier indicated he was a third-year student at the university.
An official at the U.S. embassy in the South Korean capital Seoul told Reuters it was aware of the reported arrest. There was no further comment.
A spokesman for China-based Young Pioneer Tours told Reuters that Warmbier had been detained on Jan. 2, while on one of the company’s tours.
“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,” Gareth Johnson said. Sweden handles U.S. consular issues in North Korea because Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.
The announcement came as Washington, Seoul and others are pushing hard to slap North Korea with tougher sanctions for its recent nuclear test. In the past, North Korea often announced the arrests of foreign detainees in times of tension with the outside world in an apparent attempt to wrest concessions.
The student would be the third Westerner known to be held by the secretive Communist state. Last year, South Korean-born Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was sentenced to life in prison for alleged subversion.
Earlier this month, a Korean-American man told CNN that he was being held by North Korea on suspicion of spying. The U.S. State Department said it could not confirm the CNN report. It declined to discuss the issue further.
The United States and North Korea are in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.