American professor detained in North Korea

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea detained an unidentified U.S. citizen for unknown reasons as he was planning to fly out of Pyongyang International Airport on Saturday morning.

The detention was confirmed by Martina Aberg, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang. The Swedish Embassy represents U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington and Pyongyang do not have direct diplomatic relations.

“He was prevented from getting on the flight out of Pyongyang,” Aberg said. “We don’t comment further than this.”

The detained American is a professor with the frequently used Korean surname “Kim,” according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

At least two other U.S. citizens are known to be in North Korean custody.

Otto Warmbier, 21, a student at the University of Virginia, was detained at Pyongyang airport on Jan. 2, 2016, after visiting the country with a tour group.

He has since been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly removing a political sign from a hotel wall.

Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Korean origin, was arrested in October 2015. Last year, North Korea sentenced him to 10 years of hard labor on espionage charges.

Since 2013, at least two other U.S. citizens and a British journalist have also been detained for shorter periods and then released.

All of them were grabbed by North Korean security forces as they attempted to fly out of Pyongyang airport.

Merril Newman, who at the time of his October 2013 detention was an 85-year-old U.S. veteran of the Korean War, was released two months later after a videotaped apology.

American Jeffrey Fowle spent five months in detention in 2014 for allegedly leaving a bible at a club for foreign sailors.

And in May, North Korean security officers detained BBC reporter Ruper Wingfield-Hayes as he was about to fly out of the country.

He was interrogated for at least 10 hours and accused of defaming the Korean nation before eventually being released.