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Palo Alto Grandfather Reportedly Detained In North Korea

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) - A Palo Alto grandfather has reportedly been held in North Korea for more than three weeks after being pulled off a flight departing the country.

The San Jose Mercury news reports that North Korean authorities took 85-year-old Merrill Newman from a plane on October 26th after completing a tour led by a Beijing-based company.

The U.S. State Department has not made any official comments on the matter beyond confirming to the paper that they have heard reports of a "citizen detained in North Korea."

"I feel like it's a bad movie, or something. I still can't believe and we've known for quite a while that it's real...I just feel that he's the easiest man to talk to and the nicest and I can't believe this could happen," Marilyn Coghlin, a longtime neighbor and friend of Newman told KPIX 5.

"He's an old, retired guy. I mean what's the threat exactly?" said Daniel Sneider of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. "This is unfortunately a kind of barbaric behavior on the part of the North Koreans. You have to wonder why this happens."

It was not immediately clear why Neman would have been singled out.

Newman's son told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday that the day before his flight, his father met with North Korean officials, who talked about his Army service in the Korean War. Newman apparently thought nothing of it until he escorted off the plane.

Bob Hamrdla, Newman's travel companion from the Channing House retirement community said in a statement: "There has to be a terrible misunderstanding. I hope that the North Koreans will see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible."

The United States has no diplomatic relationship with North Korea. Communications will be handled through the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.

The newspaper reported that Newman retired from a financial career in the tech sector in 1984.

The State Department issued an updated travel warning for North Korea Tuesday indicating that they had heard reports of the North Korean government "arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens and not allowing them to depart the country."

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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