A U.S. official said Wednesday that Travis King, the U.S. soldier who crossed the border into North Korea in July, was in U.S. custody after being expelled by Pyongyang into China.
The announcement came hours after North Korea state media had reported that Pyongyang had decided to “expel” King.
According to the Pentagon, the Army Pvt. was taken into North Korean custody after he “willfully and without authorization” crossed into the North while on a group tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA), which lies in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.
North Korean state media said 23-year-old King had admitted to illegally entering the country, but that claim was not immediately verified by U.S. media. State media added that Pyongyang’s investigation into King “has been finished.”
King had been assigned to South Korea as a member of the First Brigade Combat Team, First Armored Division. Earlier this month, he was released from a South Korean detention center where he had been held for 48 days on assault charges.
Though he was escorted by U.S. military personnel to Incheon International Airport outside Seoul to board a plane to the United States, where he was expected to face additional disciplinary action, he instead took a tour bus to the JSA.
The U.S. State Department bans Americans from entering North Korea “due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long term detention of U.S. nationals.”
The ban was put in place after American college student Otto Warmbier was detained in North Korea while on a tour of the country in 2015. He died in 2017, days after he was released from prison and returned to the United States in a coma.