N. Korea says it freed US student over humanitarian reasons

"He's on his way en route home to be reunited with his family", Tillerson said. The 22-year-old University of Virginia student was taken by ambulance to a hospital. The two bonded over their OH roots, and later lived together their junior year, when Warmbier was detained, Saulnier said.

At Wyoming High School, where Warmbier attended, students described him as an "outstanding person" who was known in the community for his academic achievements and athleticism. He also joined the Theta Chi fraternity. A medical team and aircraft were organized, and North Korea was informed that a delegation would travel there.

King said North Korea appeared to be very concerned about the health of the Americans it held.

Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was visiting the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, as part of a student tour group. A short time later, a Swedish representative was allowed to see one of three other Americans held in North Korea.

Earlier this week, Defence Secretary James Mattis testified to Congress that North Korea was the "most urgent" threat against the safety and security of the United States.

Three other US citizens are still in detention. He was given a one-hour trial in March 2016, when the government presented fingerprints, CCTV footage and pictures of a political banner to make its case against the American student.

He added: "I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries".

"I beg that you see how I am only human", Warmbier said at his trial. Warmbier plead, "I've made the worst mistake of my life, but please act to save me, please think of my family".

Warmbier's parents were told that their son was given a sleeping pill shortly after his trial in March previous year, and that he never woke up from it. He was due to graduate from UVA last month.

Warmbier, who had been confined for 17 months, has apparently fallen into a coma not long after his confinement began and Pyongyang issued a statement Thursday saying it made a decision to let him go for "humanitarian reasons".

Americans have been sentenced to years in North Korean prisons for seemingly minor offenses and likely could not expect leniency if the country's drug laws were violated.

State Department officials said Warmbier's release followed secret talks between US and North Korean diplomats. Yun also received confirmation that the three other US citizens now in North Korean custody - academics Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak-song, and businessman Kim Dong Chul - are in stable, healthy conditions. They all are naturalized Americans of Korean ethnicity.

But on his final night in Pyongyang - New Year's Eve - he apparently went to a staff-only floor of his hotel and attempted to take down a large propaganda sign lauding the regime.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to provide details, though one official told the Post that the release had nothing to do with the latest freakish excursion to Pyongyang by former National Basketball Association player (and Trump reality-show contestant) Dennis Rodman. After two doctors visited Mr. Warmbier, Mr. Yun demanded his return on humanitarian grounds, the State Department said.

In rare high-level contacts, Yun met senior North Korean officials in Oslo in May, where it was agreed Swedish officials in Pyongyang, who handle US consular affairs there, would be allowed to see all four American detainees, a State Department official said.

"It wasn't a situation where they asked", one official said of the US representatives.

Why is he in a coma?

There was no immediate confirmation from USA officials of North Korea's version of events - notably whether Warmbier was stricken with botulism, a potentially fatal illness that is caused by a toxin but is not usually associated with loss of consciousness.

The parents of a college student released by North Korea after 17 months of detention are expected to discuss their son's condition publicly. He is on Medivac flight on his way home.

Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour, a punishment the USA decried as far out of proportion to his alleged crime, accusing the North of using him as a political pawn.

"We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime" in North Korea, Warmbier's parents said.

They also said they are grateful he "will finally be with people who love him".

North Korea has released United States student Otto Warmbier "on humanitarian grounds" after the 22-year-old student fell into a coma in a labour camp.

  • Leroy Wright