‘Anti-Kim group attacked N.Korea embassy in Spain’
16 Mar 2019
A view of the North Korean embassy in Spain.
A dissident organisation committed to overthrowing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was behind a raid on the North Korean embassy in Spain last month, ‘The Washington Post’ reported on Friday, quoting people familiar with the planning and execution of the mission.
The newspaper, which did not further identify its sources, identified the group as Cheollima Civil Defence, which also goes by the name Free Joseon.
It said the group came to prominence in 2017 after evacuating a nephew of Kim from Macau when potential threats to his life surfaced.
The Post’s sources said the group did not act in co-ordination with any governments and US intelligence agencies would have been especially reluctant to be involved given the sensitive timing of the mission ahead of a second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi from Feb.27-28.
According to Spanish media accounts, broadly confirmed by a Spanish Foreign Ministry source, a group of unidentified men entered North Korea’s embassy in Madrid on Feb.22, bound and gagged staff, and drove off four hours later with computers.
There has been no claim of responsibility. The dissident group identified by the ‘Washington Post’ could not be reached for comment and its purported website has made no mention of any involvement in the raid.
On Feb.25 the website posted a statement saying the group had “received a request for help from comrades in a certain Western country” and that “it was a highly dangerous situation but (we) responded.”
The group said an important announcement would be coming that week, but no details of any operation have been released.
The Madrid embassy is where North Korea’s chief working-level negotiator in talks with the United States, Kim Hyok Chol, was ambassador until 2017.
Intelligence experts said computers and phones reportedly seized in the raid would be eagerly sought by foreign intelligence agencies given the information they might contain on Kim Hyok Chol and others.
Asked about the Washington Post report, the US State Department referred queries to the Spanish authorities. The CIA declined to comment.
The Washington Post’s report is the latest twist in coverage surrounding the murky raid, which was initially reported as a break-in.
The only element that the government and police have officially confirmed was that on Feb.22 a North Korean woman who was slightly injured was picked up on a street near the embassy.
She is believed to have been the person who alerted authorities. According to the El Pais report, Spain has asked for clarification from the CIA but the US spy agency denied any involvement.
Spanish authorities however said the response was “not very convincing,” adding that the CIA acted “in probable cooperation” with South Korean intelligence services.
The embassy has been without an ambassador since 2017 when Kim Hyok Chol, who is now Pyongyang’s special representative for the US and helped in preparations for the summit, was expelled as a “persona non grata” after nuclear tests and missile firings by Pyongyang. The mission has not offered any comment on the incident.
Though the Feb.27-28 summit in Hanoi failed to reach an agreement, both sides say they are keeping the door of diplomacy open.
North Korea is considering suspending talks with the United States and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests unless Washington makes concessions, a senior diplomat had said on Friday, according to news reports from the North’s capital.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States wished to continue talks with North Korea and had “every expectation” that its leader, Kim Jong Un, would stick to pledges not to resume nuclear and missile testing.
Pompeo gave no sign of U.S. willingness to soften its stance in demanding that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui blamed top U.S. officials for the breakdown of last month’s summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Russia’s TASS news agency and the Associated Press reported.
“We have no intention to yield to the U.S. demands (at the Hanoi summit) in any form, nor are we willing to engage in negotiations of this kind,” TASS quoted Choe as telling reporters in the North Korean capital.