March 28, 2019 10:09
A shadowy dissident group calling itself Free Joseon on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a raid on the North Korean Embassy in Spain last month.
Free Joseon also confirmed that it shared information stolen from the embassy with the FBI.
The group, which recently declared itself the North Korean government-in-exile, has made headlines with daredevil guerrilla tactics that mark a drastic break with the staid activities of other defector groups, who content themselves with floating propaganda leaflets across the border or helping other defectors escape across China.
In 2017 Free Joseon, then calling itself Cheollima Civil Defense, said it was protecting Kim Han-sol, the son of Kim Jong-un's half-brother Kim Jong-nam, who was assassinated by North Korean agents in Kuala Lumpur.
Spanish authorities said the Feb. 22 raid began when a member identified as Adrian Hong Chang walked into the embassy and asked to see the commercial attaché, and other members burst in after him. They held embassy staff hostage for several hours before fleeing with computers, mobile phones and a stash of documents.
Park Sang-hak of defector group Fighters for Free North Korea in Seoul said Wednesday he has been in touch with Chang and was told that Kim Han-sol and other members of the North's ruling Kim dynasty who defected overseas have joined Free Joseon.
He said Kim Han-sol lives in the U.S. in the same neighborhood as Kim Jong-un's aunt Ko Yong-suk.
Free Joseon said in a statement on its website on Tuesday, "…this was not an attack. We responded to an urgent situation in the Madrid embassy."
"Embassies around the world run by the current Pyongyang regime are not like the traditional diplomatic, commercial, and cultural outposts of legitimate governments that serve their nation's interests and respect international norms," it added. "The regime's embassies and offices are hubs of illicit narcotics and arms trafficking, mediums for the furtherance of propaganda of a totalitarian regime that systematically commit crimes against humanity against its own (and others) without current parallel."
"There were no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event. The Hanoi summit [between Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump later that week] had no relation to this operation," it said.
"The organization shared certain information of enormous potential value with the FBI in the United States, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality. The information was shared voluntarily and on their request, not our own. Those terms appear to have been broken. That information was leaked to the media was a profound betrayal of trust," it added.
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said his government "had nothing to do with" the incident.
Prof. Nam Joo-hong at Kyonggi University said, "Free Joseon is completely different from other anti-North Korean groups. The North Korean regime has not commented on the latest incident because it feels threatened by Free Joseon's activities."
And a senior North Korean defector commented, "It is important that Free Joseon is protecting Kim Han-sol. If sanctions continue and the North Korean regime's power is weakened and public unrest mounts, members of the North Korean elite and ordinary people could end up viewing Free Joseon as a real alternative."
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