'Great Joy': Kenneth Bae's Family Exults at His Release From North Korea Prison

PHOTO: Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, appears before a limited number of media outlets in Pyongyang, Jan. 20, 2014.PlayKyodo/AP Photo
WATCH North Korea Releases American Prisoners

The sister of an American detained in North Korea for two years said she is “thrilled” to hug her brother soon.

Terri Chung, the sister of Kenneth Bae, said her family has been “waiting for and praying for this day for two years.”

Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, had been held in North Korea since 2012 when he was accused of trying to overthrow the government.

Today, Bae, along with Matthew Todd Miller, was freed from North Korea and was on his way home after secret U.S. negotiations, U.S. officials said.

He was sentenced in April 2013 to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly trying to overthrow the North Korean state.

On behalf of Bae’s family, Chung thanked the U.S. government and the Swedish embassy for helping to secure the release of her brother. She also thanked North Korean officials for letting her brother leave the country.

“Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home!,” Chung said. “This ordeal has been excruciating for the family, but we are filled with joy right now.”

“Our Thanksgiving celebration this year will be one we will never forget,” she wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to Bae’s release.

The release of Bae and Miller only occurred after National Intelligence Director James Clapper engaged in discussions with North Korean officials to secure their Americans' release, the U.S. Department of State said.

Clapper's involvement was the highest level contact between the United States and North Korea since George Bush named North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil."

Clapper was traveling with the men aboard a U.S. military plane as they headed back to the U.S, according to a U.S. official.

An official from the Obama administration told ABC News that the process of freeing the two Americans happened after a long effort.

"The actual sort of operation efforts have been playing out over several days," the official told ABC News.

The official added that the Americans' release was unrelated to negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program and that Clapper had been "prepared to listen to" whatever North Korean officials wanted to say.

During a news conference Saturday, President Obama told reporters he was "grateful" for the Americans' safe return.

"I think it's a wonderful day for them and their families," said Obama. "Obviously, we are very grateful for their safe return, and I appreciate Director Clapper doing a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission.”

Bae and Miller were the last two American detainees known to be held in North Korea after the release of Jeffrey Fowle last month.

In a news conference held in January, Bae appeared before reporters in his grey prison uniform and said he could be a bridge between North Korea and western countries.

"I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country," he said.

On Twitter today, a group fighting for Bae's release thanked those who helped secure his freedom.

Miller, from California, was serving a six-year prison term for alleged espionage after reportedly tearing his visa upon arrival at the Pyongyang airport in April and requesting asylum. North Korea sentenced him in September saying he conspired to get arrested on purpose to research the human rights situation in North Korean prison.

North Korea has detained at least nine Americans since 2009.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.