State Department Officials confirmed on Sunday, North Korean authorities have reportedly detained a U.S. citizen after attempting to leave the country.
State officials declined to identify the individual citing privacy considerations, but Reuters reported the detained man is Tony Kim, a visiting professor at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency identified the man as a Korean-American in his late 50’s.
North Korean authorities detained him at Pyongyang International Airport on his way out of the country Saturday. The reason for his detention is unclear.
Kim is a former professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China’s Jilin province, which borders North Korea. He was in North Korea for about a month to discuss relief activities.
Local report says Kim was questioned and then placed into custody as he was attempting to board an international flight from Pyongyang International Airport.
The State Department is aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea. In the absence of a U.S. embassy in North Korea, American diplomats are working back channels through the Swedish Embassy to negotiate the citizen’s release.
Kim’s detention came a particularly difficult time as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang at an all time high.
North Korea is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the U.S. In response to rising tensions, U.S. has dispatched the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson toward the Korean peninsula which is expected to arrive later this week.
Defense Secretary James Mattis blasted North Korea’s most recent attempt to test launch a nuclear weapon as another “reckless act” by Pyongyang which will increase tensions in the Pacific last week.
This raised the total number of Americans known to be detained in North Korea to three in two years, potentially deepening the animosities between Washington and Pyongyang.