North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has taken responsibility for the release of detained U.S. citizen Jeffrey Fowle, who was held by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for five months. North Korean officials said Wednesday that Kim, who had disappeared from the public’s eye in early September and made his first public appearance in more than a month last week, had personally ordered Fowle’s release following requests from U.S. President Barack Obama, according to the New York Times.
The statement was Pyongyang’s first public comment on Fowle’s release. Fowle, who is from Ohio, was reunited with his family after landing in the U.S. following a five month detainment. Fowle, 56, had visited North Korea on a 10-day tourist trip with a group of travelers in May and was arrested for reportedly leaving a Bible behind in a hotel, a breach of North Korea’s law against missionary activity in the country. North Korea’s state news agency said authorities arrested Fowle for “violat[ing] the laws of our republic, which did not fit his stated purpose of visiting our republic as a tourist.”
Washington has said little about Fowle’s release, other than to thank the Swedish government, which has an embassy in North Korea’s capital and has previously offered to assist U.S. travelers held in North Korea, for its help in freeing Fowle. North Korea has detained a number of U.S. citizens in recent years for seemingly minor offenses, a move that some experts believe is a tool to force visits from high-profile American politicians. Two Americans remain in North Korea’s custody.
Kim’s six-week absence sparked rumors that the leader had fallen seriously ill or had been ousted in a military coup. He emerged Oct. 14 in an appearance at the country's Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences.