Who is Travis King, the US soldier who was detained in North Korea?

US Army private's release crossed into the country while on a civilian tour of the demilitarised zone

An image of Travis King appears during a news programme in South Korea. AP
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American soldier Travis King returned to the US this week after being held for weeks in North Korea.

He had seemingly crossed wilfully into the country from South Korea at the demilitarised zone, or DMZ, while on a civilian tour and was detained by North Korean soldiers.

Pvt King was met by the US ambassador to China, brought by a Swedish convoy to the Friendship Bridge on the border with North Korea, and arrived in the US on Wednesday, according to CNN.

Who is Travis King?

Pvt King was born in 1999 or 2000 to father Thomas King and mother Claudine Gates, according to The Washington Times. He grew up in Racine, Wisconsin.

Following his high school graduation, he joined the US Army.

He was assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armoured Division, which arrived in South Korea in February 2022, ABC News reported.

Why did Travis King cross into North Korea?

In October 2022, Pvt King was arrested in Seoul after becoming involved in a physical altercation with locals. After the arrival of police, he allegedly caused damage to a police vehicle, and made aggressive and disparaging remarks against Koreans and law enforcement, The New York Times reported.

After failing to pay a fine for the assault charges, he was detained by South Korean authorities for a month and a half before being turned over to US military police. He was facing a possible dishonourable discharge.

As he was being escorted to a plane that would bring him back to the US, he fled the airport and joined a tour group heading to the DMZ, which defines the border between North and South Korea.

He crossed into North Korea on July 18.

Following weeks of intense diplomacy at a time of high tension between Pyongyang and Washington, he was released and returned to the US.

Other Americans detained by North Korea

Many Americans have entered North Korea over the years. While most have entered as tourists, others were aiming to defect.

Charles Jenkins, a US soldier, defected to North Korea in 1965. Pyongyang used him as a propaganda asset for many years before releasing him in 2004.

Bruce Byron Lowrance entered the country illegally in 2018 and was held for five months before being released.

In September 2014, Matthew Miller was sentenced to six years of hard labour by North Korea’s Supreme Court on charges that he illegally entered the country for spying purposes, according to the Associated Press. He was released later that same year.

Otto Warmbier was detained in 2016 on charges of trying to steal a propaganda poster. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour but was released after 17 months. He died of brain damage after returning home, and his family allege he was tortured.

Updated: September 28, 2023, 7:06 PM