SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) — North Korea announced Friday that it has detained a U.S. citizen who it says entered the secretive country as a tourist in April and broke the law.
The news brings the number of Americans believed to be held in the communist nation to three.
The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that authorities are investigating a man who it said violated the law by acting “contrary to the purpose of tourism.”
In a brief English-language article, KCNA gave the American’s name as Jeffrey Edward Fowle, saying he arrived as a tourist on April 29. It didn’t give any other details.
Citing unidentified diplomatic sources, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that Fowle was part of a tour group and that he was detained in mid-May after allegedly leaving a Bible in a hotel where he had been staying.
The U.S. State Department said it was “aware of reports that a third U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea.” But it declined to provide any further information, saying it couldn’t share details about specific cases without written consent from an individual.
“There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” a State Department official said.
Other Americans held
North Korea said in late April it was holding a different American man, who it claimed came the country seeking asylum.
He tore his tourist visa and shouted that “he would seek asylum” and “came to the DPRK (North Korea) after choosing it as a shelter,” KCNA said.
KCNA identified that man as Miller Matthew Todd, who it says was taken into custody on April 10.
The U.S. State Department said at the time that it was aware of the report and had been in touch with Sweden, which represents American interests in North Korea, about the matter. It declined to disclose any further information.
North Korea is also holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in 2013 by a court that said he had carried out acts aimed at bringing down the regime of leader Kim Jong Un.
Although North Korea contains a number of state-controlled churches, the totalitarian regime forbids independent religious activities, viewing them as potential threats to its authority.
Other Americans detained in the North have later been released.
Last year, Pyongyang freed Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old veteran of the Korean War who was on an organized private tour in the country, after holding him for several weeks.