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U.S. student detained in North Korea makes first public appearance

Otto Warmbier said he was encouraged by the CIA to commit a crime against North Korea.

By Elizabeth Shim
U.S. student detained in North Korea makes first public appearance
Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student detained in North Korea, made an emotional plea for his release on Monday. Photo by KCNA

SEOUL, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student detained in North Korea, made his first public appearance at a press conference in Pyongyang, where he apologized for infractions against the state.

"I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," Warmbier said, according to state-controlled news agency KCNA.

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"The aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people. This was a very foolish aim," he reportedly said, according to the BBC.

Warmbier also said the crime he committed was "very severe and pre-planned" and that he "never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in [North Korea]," adding that he was urged by a church in Ohio, a secretive university organization, and the Central Intelligence Agency to insult the North Korean state.

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Financial incentives were provided, according to his confession. The mother of a church friend had offered Warmbier a $10,000 used car, if he could bring back a North Korean sign bearing a political slogan. Warmbier also reportedly said he was struggling with money and the offer was a "golden opportunity," and that he traveled to North Korea with the mission to commit the crime while posing as a tourist.

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The 21-year-old college student was arrested in Jan. 2 as he was preparing to leave the country at the end of a tour. At the main airport in Pyongyang, officials quietly took him to a room for questioning, and his group was later told Warmbier had been taken to a hospital.

On Jan. 22, North Korea announced Warmbier had been arrested for "hostile acts."

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Other detainees who were later released have previously said they made statements under pressure from North Korean authorities, and it is likely some aspects of Warmbier's apology were made involuntarily.

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