King lands at US army base in Texas, more than two months after he was detained for illegally crossing into North Korea.
An American soldier released after more than two months in North Korea’s custody has returned to the United States, a US official confirmed.
Travis King arrived at a US military base in the state of Texas around 05:30 GMT on Thursday, the official told the Reuters news agency.
Video aired on Thursday by a Texas news station also appeared to show King, dressed in a dark top, walking off a plane in San Antonio.
King was released into US custody a day earlier, more than two months after he ran into North Korea across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates it from South Korea.
Pyongyang said on Wednesday that it “decided to expel” the 23-year-old US soldier, who is Black, after concluding an investigation over his unlawful entry into the country.
“King confessed that he illegally intruded into the territory of [North Korea] as he harboured ill feelings against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US army and was disillusioned about the unequal US society,” a report in the official KCNA news agency said.
King bolted into North Korea in July while on a tour of the southern side of an inter-Korean truce village, Panmunjom.
The border between the two Koreas is heavily fortified but at the Joint Security Area (JSA), the frontier is marked only by a low concrete divider and is relatively easy to cross, despite the presence of soldiers on both sides.
King was serving nearly two months in a South Korean prison for assault.
He was released on July 10 and was to be sent home to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he could have faced additional military discipline and discharge from the service.
But he managed to leave the airport and eventually crossed into North Korea on July 18.
According to US officials, North Korea received nothing in exchange for his release this week.
“We made no concessions as part of securing his return,” US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Wednesday.
Washington also thanked Sweden and China for facilitating King’s release but stressed that the move did not represent a diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang.
On Wednesday, Jonathan Franks, a spokesperson for King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said: “Ms Gates will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done.”
King is expected to undergo a medical review at Brooke Army Medical Center, a hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
US basketball star Brittney Griner was treated there in December after a prisoner swap with Russia ended her 10 months in Russian detention.
Previous cases of US detainees in NK
- Otto Warmbier was arrested for allegedly removing a political banner from a North Korean hotel and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour.
- US-Korean tour operator and missionary Kenneth Bae was arrested in November 2012 and was released two years later after a secret mission to Pyongyang led by then-US intelligence chief James Clapper.
- TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained by North Korean guards in March 2009 while on assignment on the China border. Three months later, they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour until their release was secured when former US President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang.
- Missionary Evan Hunziker swam naked and drunk across the Yalu River from China to North Korea in August 1996, when he was arrested and charged with spying. He was released three months later after US congressman Bill Richardson travelled to Pyongyang.
- The drunken US soldier Charles Robert Jenkins crossed into the North in 1965 while patrolling the DMZ in an attempt to avoid facing combat duty in Vietnam. Jenkins was held for decades until he was eventually allowed to leave in 2004.