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Travis King, US Soldier Who Crossed into North Korea, Now in American Custody, Officials Confirm

by Ethan Kim
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Travis King in American custody

According to statements from two U.S. government officials, Travis King, the U.S. Army soldier who illegally entered North Korea earlier this year, is now in American custody. One of these officials disclosed on Wednesday that King was transferred into U.S. jurisdiction in China. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in advance of an official U.S. government announcement regarding King’s current status.

Earlier Developments and Coverage

Family Members Puzzled by American Soldier’s Entrance into North Korea

The Intriguing Border Village Where a U.S. Soldier Entered North Korean Territory

Overview of Other Americans Who Have Previously Entered North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — On Wednesday, North Korean authorities announced their decision to expel U.S. soldier Travis King, who had entered North Korea approximately two months ago via the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. This decision took some observers by surprise, as many had anticipated that North Korea would prolong King’s detention to leverage it for political gains, especially considering the current strained relationship between North Korea and the United States.

According to the North Korean official news agency, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), authorities have concluded their questioning of King. However, they did not specify either the timing or location of his expulsion.

King, who previously served in South Korea, illegally entered North Korea on July 18 during a civilian visit to a border village. He was the first American to be confirmed as detained in North Korea in nearly half a decade. At the time of his border crossing, King was expected to be en route to Fort Bliss, Texas, following his release from a South Korean prison where he had been convicted of assault.

The KCNA reported that King had admitted to intentionally entering North Korea, citing “maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the U.S. Army and disillusionment with American society as his reasons. Verification of these statements is difficult due to the lack of independent sources.

“The relevant department of the DPRK has resolved to expel Travis King, a member of the U.S. Army who unlawfully trespassed into DPRK territory,” stated the KCNA, employing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

As of the time of this report, neither the White House, the State Department, nor the Pentagon have issued any immediate comments regarding King’s situation.

According to U.S. authorities, King has been classified as AWOL (Absent Without Leave), and could face various punitive measures, including imprisonment, loss of salary, or a dishonorable discharge, contingent upon the specifics of his case and manner of return.

In August, North Korea broke its silence, confirming that King, aged 23, had been detained and was under investigation for the circumstances leading to his illegal crossing. King’s mother, Claudine Gates, in an interview last month with The Big Big News, expressed her belief that her son had compelling reasons to return to the United States.

Travis King, a Wisconsin native, was among approximately 28,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korean aggression. U.S. officials had previously expressed concern over King’s wellbeing, given North Korea’s history of harsh treatment of American detainees.

Illegal entries across the DMZ are exceedingly uncommon. The Americans who have crossed into North Korea in the past have ranged from soldiers and missionaries to human rights advocates and the simply curious.

The expeditious release of King after 71 days in North Korean custody is notably quick by North Korean standards. Analysts had speculated that King might be used as a propaganda tool or bargaining chip amid ongoing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the latter’s nuclear program and the U.S.’s military collaboration with South Korea. Ultimately, however, analysts such as Cheong Seong-Chang of South Korea’s Sejong Institute suggest that North Korea found it not worth the resources to continue detaining King.

There is no immediate clarity on how King will be expelled. In some previous instances, American detainees have been flown to Beijing. In other cases, special envoys have been dispatched to secure their release.

This follows the 2017 case of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was returned from North Korea in a coma and subsequently passed away. Bill Richardson, who served multiple U.S. presidential administrations as an unofficial diplomatic envoy, visited North Korea in 2007 to recover the remains of U.S. servicemembers killed during the Korean War.


Contributions to this report were made by Big Big News correspondents Matthew Lee and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Travis King in American custody

What is the current status of U.S. soldier Travis King?

Travis King is currently in American custody, according to statements from two U.S. government officials. One official indicated that King was transferred to U.S. jurisdiction in China.

Why was Travis King in North Korea?

Travis King illegally crossed into North Korea on July 18 during a civilian visit to a border village. He was detained by North Korean authorities for about 71 days before being expelled.

What were the reasons cited by Travis King for crossing into North Korea?

According to the North Korean official news agency, Travis King admitted to intentionally entering North Korea, citing “maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the U.S. Army and disillusionment with American society. However, the authenticity of these statements is not verifiable.

How did U.S. authorities respond to Travis King’s situation?

As of the time of the report, neither the White House, the State Department, nor the Pentagon have issued any immediate comments. U.S. officials have classified King as AWOL (Absent Without Leave), and he could face a range of punitive measures.

Was Travis King’s expulsion from North Korea expected?

The decision to expel King took some observers by surprise. Given the high political tensions between the United States and North Korea, many had anticipated that North Korea would prolong King’s detention for possible political leverage.

What might happen to Travis King now that he is in American custody?

King has been declared AWOL by U.S. authorities. Depending on the specifics of his case and how he returned, he could face various punitive measures including imprisonment, loss of salary, or a dishonorable discharge.

Is crossing into North Korea a common occurrence?

No, unauthorized crossings across the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea are extremely rare. The few Americans who have crossed into North Korea in the past include soldiers, missionaries, human rights advocates, and the simply curious.

How was Travis King expelled from North Korea?

The specific details about how King was expelled from North Korea were not disclosed. However, in previous instances, American detainees have either been flown to Beijing or a special envoy has been dispatched to secure their release.

More about Travis King in American custody

  • U.S. State Department Statements on Detained Americans
  • North Korean Official News Agency Releases
  • Previous Instances of U.S. Citizens Detained in North Korea
  • Legal Consequences for U.S. Military Personnel Going AWOL
  • U.S.-North Korea Relations and Current Tensions
  • Background on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Between North and South Korea
  • Historical Cases of Americans Detained in North Korea
  • U.S. Military Presence in South Korea

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8 comments

GlobalWatcher September 27, 2023 - 2:34 pm

Timing’s interesting. With the tensions btwn the US & NK, thought this guy would be a political pawn for a longer time.

Reply
Sarah_J September 27, 2023 - 3:59 pm

Interesting to see N. Korea let him go so quickly. Maybe they’re sending a message? or they just didn’t see the value in keeping him?

Reply
Emily_R September 27, 2023 - 4:46 pm

Wow, didn’t see that coming. Thought N.Korea would hold on to him for a while, considering the current political climate.

Reply
Mike2023 September 27, 2023 - 5:05 pm

seems like a desperate move from Travis King. The guy was disillusioned but that’s no excuse to do something this dangerous.

Reply
JaneDoe September 27, 2023 - 8:37 pm

is it just me, or do the details about why he crossed seem sketchy? Like, they couldn’t verify if those statements are true. So much unknown.

Reply
CryptoGuy September 27, 2023 - 11:56 pm

Honestly, this whole thing sounds like something out of a movie. The US and North Korea are always at odds. Don’t get why he’d willingly walk into that kind of trouble.

Reply
VeteranJoe September 28, 2023 - 2:35 am

As a former servicemember, I can’t condone what King did. AWOL is a serious offense, and crossing into an enemy state? That’s just reckless.

Reply
JohnSmith47 September 28, 2023 - 11:35 am

Woah, this is wild. Cant believe he actually crossed into North Korea. What was he thinking?!

Reply

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