Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, shown in a June 16, 2009, file photo. (UPI Photo/Ismael Mohamad) | License Photo
PYONGYANG, North Korea, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- An American held in North Korea since January made it back to the United States Friday afternoon with the help former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
WHDH-TV, Boston, reported Aijalon Mahli Gomes was escorted by the former president and their plane arrived safely at Logan International Airport. Gomes's family gathered around the aircraft to welcome him, the TV station said.
"The family of Aijalon Gomes feels blessed today to be able to welcome Aijalon back in the arms of those who love him," the family said in a statement. "It's been a long dark and difficult period for Aijalon and the entire family ... ."
The family expressed its gratitude for Carter's efforts and thanked the government of North Korea and the Swedish ambassador.
Carter traveled to Pyongyang Wednesday as a private citizen and negotiated a special pardon for Gomes, 31, who had been sentenced in May to eight years of labor and fined about $700,000 for illegally entering the country, the South Korean news agency Yonhap said.
The North's Central News Agency reported Carter apologized to Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, for Gomes's actions and requested his release.
The North Korean news agency said leader Kim Jong Il issued an order granting amnesty to Gomes, saying, "The measure taken by (North Korea) to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of its humanitarianism and peace-loving policy."
The U.S. State Department said in a statement it welcomed news of Gomes's release and expressed appreciation to Carter for his efforts.
The statement stressed that the U.S. government did not propose or arrange the trip, and that Carter traveled at the invitation of the North Korean government.
Gomes, a graduate of Bowdoin College who grew up in Mattapan, was in South Korea the past few years teaching English. It wasn't clear why he traveled into North Korea, though it may have been in support of a friend who was a human rights activist, WHDH-TV said.