North Korea's propaganda outlet announced late Thursday that the government had detained an American visitor. The charge: Acting "contrary to the purposes of tourism."
The Korean Central News Agency gave few details about the detainee, but reported his name as Jeffrey Edward Fowle. He entered the communist state as a tourist on April 29 and was detained just before leaving according to KCNA.
Kyoto, a Japanese outlet, provides one possible explanation for Fowle's detainment. Its diplomatic sources say Fowle left a copy of the Bible in his hotel room. Freedom of religion is nonexistent in North Korea, which is officially an atheist state. The regime's ideology, Juche, serves a religious purpose, complete with a creation myth and a decalogue to guide subjects' conduct.
The State Department says it is aware of KCNA's report, but has not confirmed its details.
Thursday's announcement, if confirmed, brings the number of Americans currently detained in North Korea to three.
On April 10, North Korea claimed an American named Miller Matthew Todd sought asylum in the country, allegedly tearing up his tourist visa. If true, Todd would join a short list of Americans who willingly fled to North Korea.
In 2012, American missionary Kenneth Bae, described by North Korea as a militant Christian, was sentenced to 15 years' hard labor. He was accused of smuggling subversive material into the country. Bae is still imprisoned.
The North Korean government has a bad habit of abducting citizens of other nations.
Hundreds of Japanese were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, never to be seen again. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering lifting sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the return of remaining abductees.
Last year, 85-year-old U.S. Korean War veteran Merrill Newman was detained for a month after asking about North Korean veterans on a tour. He was released only after making a forced confession video.
While traffic tends to flow out of North Korea rather than into it, the hermit kingdom attracts a strange assortment of guests. In 2013, former NBA player Dennis Rodman, known more for his carnival sideshow appearance than his on-court production, received an audience with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un.
The erratic regime is well-known for stunts of this sort, but it has grander ambitions. North Korea is preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test and continues to develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload.