North Korea said Wednesday that its leader, Kim Jong-un, had personally ordered the release of Jeffrey E. Fowle, an American, after considering requests from President Obama.
Mr. Fowle, an Ohio municipal worker and one of three Americans detained in North Korea, had been held for nearly six months before a United States military plane picked him up Tuesday. He arrived Wednesday in Ohio, where he was reunited with his wife and three children, who rushed to greet his plane when he arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton.
Mr. Kim recently reappeared in state-run news media after a six-week absence, ending widespread speculation about his health and his grip on power. With the statement on Wednesday, North Korea appeared to be burnishing Mr. Kim’s image at home as a leader capable of doing a favor for the American president.
Analysts also said the sudden release of Mr. Fowle might have been a conciliatory gesture from Mr. Kim to bolster his government’s efforts to engage Washington in a dialogue.
The report was the North’s first public comment on the circumstances surrounding Mr. Fowle’s release. Washington has not offered an explanation, except for thanking the Swedish government, which maintains an embassy in Pyongyang and has represented the interests of Americans held in the North. The United States and North Korea remain technically at war after the Korean War was halted in 1953 in a truce.
Mr. Fowle, 56, of Miamisburg, Ohio, was released while he was awaiting trial on charges of committing an antistate crime. He entered North Korea in late April on a tourist visa and was arrested in May after leaving a Bible at a bar. North Korea considers any attempt by an outsider to disseminate Christian messages a crime aimed at undermining its political system.
The statement released by the family gave thanks to God “for his hand of protection over Jeff these past six months” and said that Mr. Fowle wanted people to know that the North Korean government had treated him well.