WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused North Korea of brutally abusing an American student who had been held captive in North Korea, saying the young man had been “tortured beyond belief.”
Otto Warmbier, 22, died in June a few days after he was sent home in a mysterious coma after more than a year in prison in North Korea.
Trump had previously blamed Pyongyang’s “brutal regime” for Warmbier’s plight but it was the first time the US president publicly accused North Korea of torture in the case.
US officials have said Trump was personally taken aback by Warmbier’s death and his comment Tuesday ratchets up the pressure on Kim Jong-Un’s regime.
Warmbier, who was Jewish, had been convicted of offenses against the state for trying to steal a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor.
“Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea,” Trump said on Twitter.
Great interview on @foxandfriends with the parents of Otto Warmbier: 1994 – 2017. Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
His post followed the airing of an interview with Warmbier’s parents.
“They kidnapped Otto, they tortured him, they intentionally injured him. They are not victims, they are terrorists,” Fred Warmbier said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends.”
The parents described the condition his family found him in when they went aboard an air ambulance that arrived June 13 in Cincinnati. They said Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, was howling, making an “involuntary, inhuman sound,” ”staring blankly into space jerking violently,” and was blind and deaf with his head shaved. Fred Warmbier said his mouth “looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”
Fred Warmbier said Otto’s mother and sister ran off the plane at the initial sight of him.
“We weren’t prepared … no mother, no parent should ever have gone through what we went through,” Cindy Warmbier said. She said it was “inexcusable” that her son had been alone in captivity for so long with no one to comfort him. She said she “got it together” and stayed with him after his arrival.
Fred Warmbier also said Otto had a large scar on his right foot and a high fever.
The father had previously criticized former president Barack Obama’s administration for how little it did for their son, saying officials had counseled the family against speaking out to avoid antagonizing the North Korean regime.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) September 26, 2017
Three Americans accused of various crimes against the state are behind bars in the North, which is engaged in a tense standoff with the Trump administration over its banned missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.