North Korea says US student confessed to stealing item with propaganda slogan

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

U.S. Student Held in North Korea Apologizes

A U.S. student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday.

Otto Warmbier, 21, a student at the University of Virginia, was detained before boarding his flight to China over an unspecified incident at his hotel, his tour agency told Reuters in January.

SEE ALSO: Al Sharpton calls Oscar ratings decline 'heartening' for diversity

North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners and has used jailed U.S. citizens in the past to exact high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.

"I committed the crime of taking out a political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," the North's KCNA news agency quoted Warmbier as telling media in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. It did not say what the item was.

CNN showed video of a sobbing Warmbier saying: "I have made the worst mistake of my life, but please act to save me."

RELATED GALLERY: A look inside Kaesong, North Korea and the DMZ

17 PHOTOS
Koreas tension, Kaesong North Korea and Demilitarized Zone
See Gallery
North Korea says US student confessed to stealing item with propaganda slogan
A North Korean woman cycles with her child riding in a basket on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. In response to the North's recent long-range rocket launch, Seoul shut down a factory park in Kaesong jointly run by both Koreas and this has cost the impoverished North a rare source of legitimate hard currency. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean children rest at the side of a road on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. In response to the North's recent long-range rocket launch, Seoul shut down a factory park in Kaesong jointly run by both Koreas and this has cost the impoverished North a rare source of legitimate hard currency. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean soldiers guard the truce village of Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Panmunjom, North Korea. Though the world's most fortified border can often seem like a tourist trap, drawing throngs of camera-happy visitors on both sides every year, to the military-trained eye the Cold War style standoff along the DMZ is an incident waiting to happen. And with tensions between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, this is one of those times when that's more true than ever. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
The South Korean building is seen in the background as North Korean soldiers guard the truce village of Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Panmunjom, North Korea. Though the world's most fortified border can often seem like a tourist trap, drawing throngs of camera-happy visitors on both sides every year, to the military-trained eye the Cold War style standoff along the DMZ is an incident waiting to happen. And with tensions between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, this is one of those times when that's more true than ever. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean children play at the side of a road on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. In response to the North's recent long-range rocket launch, Seoul shut down a factory park in Kaesong jointly run by both Koreas and this has cost the impoverished North a rare source of legitimate hard currency. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean People's Army Lt. Col. Nam Dong Ho is silhouetted against the truce village of Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Panmunjom, North Korea. Nam Dong Ho told The Associated Press that tensions have increased significantly along the Demilitarized Zone since North Korea conducted its nuclear test and rocket launch. He said he could not comment on operational details, but added: "The reality is that it is touch and go." (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean People's Army Lt. Col. Nam Dong Ho points to a map showing the line which separates the two Koreas in Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Panmunjom, North Korea. Nam Dong Ho told The Associated Press that tensions have increased significantly along the Demilitarized Zone since North Korea conducted its nuclear test and rocket launch. He said he could not comment on operational details, but added: "The reality is that it is touch and go." (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean People's Army Lt. Col. Nam Dong Ho speaks during an interview in Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Panmunjom, North Korea. Nam Dong Ho told the Associated Press that tensions have increased significantly along the Demilitarized Zone since North Korea conducted its nuclear test and rocket launch. He said he could not comment on operational details, but added: "The reality is that it is touch and go." (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean soldiers guard the truce village of Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Panmunjom, North Korea. Though the world's most fortified border can often seem like a tourist trap, drawing throngs of camera-happy visitors on both sides every year, to the military-trained eye the Cold War style standoff along the DMZ is an incident waiting to happen. And with tensions between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, this is one of those times when that's more true than ever. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Solar panels hang from windows of an apartment building on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean push their bicycles along a road on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. In response to the North's recent long-range rocket launch, Seoul shut down a factory park in Kaesong jointly run by both Koreas and this has cost the impoverished North a rare source of legitimate hard currency. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean children play near apartment buildings on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. In response to the North's recent long-range rocket launch, Seoul shut down a factory park in Kaesong jointly run by both Koreas and this has cost the impoverished North a rare source of legitimate hard currency. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Koreans ride their bicycles on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. In response to the North's recent long-range rocket launch, Seoul shut down a factory park in Kaesong jointly run by both Koreas and this has cost the impoverished North a rare source of legitimate hard currency. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Koreans walk near residential apartments on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A girl crosses a street while other cycle along a pathway on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
North Korean men wait along the street with their bicycles on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kaesong, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Warmbier said a "deaconess" had offered him a used car worth $10,000 if he could present a U.S. church with the slogan as a "trophy" from North Korea, KCNA said.

The acquaintance also said the church would pay his mother $200,000 if he was detained by the North and did not return, KCNA quoted Warmbier as saying.

"My crime is very severe and pre-planned," Warmbier was quoted as saying, adding that he was impressed by North Korea's "humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself."

The White House said on Monday it was aware of Warmbier's situation and was working closely with Sweden, the United States' protecting power in North Korea, to learn as much as it can about Warmbier's detention.

"There's no greater priority for the administration than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a daily briefing.

Warmbier's parents have not heard from him since his arrest, according to a statement from his family provided by the University of Virginia.

"I hope the fact that he has conveyed his sincere apology for anything that he may have done wrong will now make it possible for the DPRK (North Korea) authorities to allow him to return home," the statement said.

"I urge the DPRK government to consider his youth and make an important humanitarian gesture by allowing him to return to his loved ones."

Other Westerners detained in North Korea previously have confessed to crimes against the state.

North Korea's state media said in January that Warmbier "was caught committing a hostile act against the state", which it said was "tolerated and manipulated by the U.S. government".

The senior pastor at Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, told CNN that he did not know the person identified by Warmbier in the KCNA story as a deaconess there, and said Warmbier was not a member of the congregation.

According to KCNA, Warmbier also said he was encouraged in his act by a member of the Z Society, an elite philanthropic organization at the University of Virginia that he hoped to join.

An official in the university's communications office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Isolated North Korea is expected to face a tough new U.N. Security Council resolution tightening sanctions against it following its nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch this month.

Warmbier was on a five-day New Year's tour of North Korea with a group of 20 and was delayed at immigration before being taken away by two airport officials, according to a tour operator that had sponsored the trip.

While most tourists to North Korea are from China, roughly 6,000 Westerners visit annually, though the United States and Canada advise against it.

Most are adventure-seekers curious about life behind the last sliver of the iron curtain, and ignore critics who say their dollars prop up a repressive regime.

More on AOL.com:
Ohio high school shooting injures 4, suspect in custody
A 12-year-old girl is facing criminal charges for using emojis
Sacramento Zoo takes in ring-tailed lemur found in backyard

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners