TOKYO – North Korea has detained another American who worked at a private university in Pyongyang, taking to the number of U.S. citizens who are being held by Kim Jong Un’s regime to four.
Kim Hak-song, who worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was detained Saturday, North Korea’s state news agency said.
“A relevant institution of the DPRK detained American citizen Kim Hak Song on May 6 under a law of the DPRK on suspension of his hostile acts against it,” the Korean Central News Agency said, using the abbreviation for the North’s official name.
No other details about Kim were immediately available.
Two weeks earlier, North Korea detained another U.S. citizen, Kim Sang-dok or Tony Kim, as he waited to board a flight at Pyongyang airport. He had been teaching a class in international finance and management at the same university, known as PUST.
PUST is the only private educational institution in North Korea. It is run by a Korean American professor and funded largely by Christian groups. It began offering classes in English to the North Korean elite in 2010.
PUST has more than 60 foreign faculty members, including from the United States, Canada, Britain and China, according to the university’s website.
“The mission of PUST is to pursue excellence in education, with an international outlook, so that its students are diligent in studies, innovative in research and upright in character, bringing illumination to the Korean people and the world,” it says.
Suki Kim, a Korean American author who taught at the university for six months and wrote a book about it, described the faculty members holding private prayer meetings and Bible study sessions.
All religion is banned in North Korea, a totalitarian state that requires all its citizens to worship the three generations of the Kim family that have run the country through a bizarre personality cult since the end of World War II.
However, PUST appears to have been tolerated as long as its Christian activities were conducted behind closed doors and the faculty did not try to proselytize to the North Korean students.
Two other American citizens also are being held in North Korea. One is former Virginia man Kim Dong-chul, who had been living in the Chinese city of Yanji, near the border with North Korea, and working in a special economic zone in the North as head of a trade and hotel services company.
Kim Dong-chul, who is in his early 60s and was born in South Korea but became a U.S. citizen in 1987, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last April on charges of spying.
The other is Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was detained for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda sign from a Pyongyang hotel on New Year’s Day last year while on a group tour.
Warmbier was convicted of subversion in March and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. That is the last time he was seen and when Swedish diplomats, who represent the United States in North Korea, were last allowed to meet with him.
The State Department advises Americans against traveling to North Korea, warning of “the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”
The detentions come at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea.
President Donald Trump has been vacillating between calling Kim Jong Un a “smart cookie” and threatening military action against North Korea, while the Kim regime has been warning of a nuclear attack in the face of any U.S. threat. .
In the latest development, North Korea Friday accused the United States and South Korean intelligence agencies of plotting to kill Kim Jong Un using “biochemical substances.”
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the agencies “hotbed of evils in the world” and said in a statement that they had “hatched a vicious plot to hurt the supreme leadership.”
The statement said that a citizen, named Kim, had been paid $290,000 for himself and his “terrorist accomplices” as part of the alleged plot. He was supposed to target the “supreme leadership” at a public event or military parade, using “bomb terrorism” that involved “biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano-poisonous substance,” the statement said.
It was not clear whether this Kim was a reference to either of the men recently detained. Kim is the most common surname in Korea, used by about half of all Koreans.