Washington: A South Korean-born missionary detained by North Korea just over two years ago, Kenneth Bae was the US citizen who languished the longest in the totalitarian state`s jails.
Bae, 46, was dramatically released Saturday along with fellow American Matthew Miller after a secret mission to Pyongyang led by US intelligence chief James Clapper.
Bae`s liberation draws a line under a saga that began when he was detained on November 3, 2012 in the northeastern North Korean city of Rason while traveling on a tourist visa.
According to his family, Bae was merely leading a tour group, as the owner of a travel agency he ran in neighboring China.
South Korean media reports said sensitive information was found on the hard drive of a computer belonging to a member of the group.
In 2013, Bae was sentenced to 15 years in prison for "hostile acts" against North Korea. He was accused of trying to "topple" the hermit kingdom.Since his sentence, Americans have had little news concerning Bae`s incarceration. Relatives in northwestern Washington state have given frequent interviews calling for his release.
In February, it emerged that Bae had been transferred from a hospital to a labor camp.
His sister Terri Chung said he had lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms) in weight since his imprisonment. He had also suffered from kidney and liver problems.
The US State Department had repeatedly requested Bae`s release on humanitarian grounds. Bae is understood to have met with Swedish diplomats during his time in prison.
With no diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang, Sweden has acted as an intermediary in the affair.
In September, Bae appeared alongside fellow US detainees Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller in an interview surprisingly granted to US network CNN by North Korea.
Bae revealed he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp.
"Right now, what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," Bae revealed, adding he had been treated "as humanely as possible."
However, Bae stoked concern about his health in the interview after revealing he had spent much of his time shuttling between hospitals and prison.
"I`ve been going back and forth between hospital and to the labor camp for the last year and a half," Bae said.
He said his health had "been failing."
"My hands are numb and tingling, and it`s difficult sleeping at night, and I was working in the field every day," Bae said.
Born in South Korea, Bae immigrated to the United States with his family in 1985.