Seoul’s spy agency warns that North Korea is plotting attacks on embassies

SEOUL, May 3 — South Korea’s spy agency said today that Pyongyang is plotting “terrorist” attacks against Seoul officials and citizens abroad, with the Foreign Ministry raising the alert level for diplomatic missions in five countries.



The National Intelligence Service recently said it has discovered “numerous signs that North Korea is preparing to carry out terrorist attacks against our embassy staff or citizens in various countries, (such as) China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.”

“North Korea has deployed agents to these countries to expand surveillance of South Korean embassies and is also engaging in specific activities, such as seeking out South Korean citizens as potential terrorist targets,” the report said.

The spy agency said it appeared to be linked to a wave of defections by North Korean elites who have been stuck abroad during the pandemic and are now trying to prevent them from returning home after Pyongyang relaxed strict border controls.

Pyongyang considers apostasy a serious crime and is believed to impose harsh punishments on offenders, their families and even people indirectly involved in the incident.

North Korean embassy officials may be filing false reports blaming “external factors” for voluntary defections by their colleagues in an attempt to avoid punishment, NOS said.

As a result, the North could plot “retaliatory measures” against South Korean embassy staff under such pretexts, NIS added.

On Thursday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it had upgraded the anti-terrorism status for five of its diplomatic missions: embassies in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and consulates in the Russian port city of Vladivostok and the Chinese city of Shenyang.

Both Seoul and Pyongyang have embassies or consulates in all five locations.

According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, North Korea maintains diplomatic ties with more than 150 countries, but the number of missions it maintains abroad has declined since the 1990s due to financial constraints.

Late last year, North Korea closed a handful of embassies, including those of key African allies Angola and Uganda and places from Spain to Hong Kong, in what Seoul said was a sign of the country’s serious economic problems, but Pyongyang defended itself as a streamlining.

According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, 196 North Korean defectors arrived in the South last year, about 10 of them from Pyongyang’s elite class such as diplomats and possibly their children.

According to Seoul, this was the highest number of defections of North Korean elites to the South since 2017.

This year, Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un declared Seoul his country’s “main enemy,” jettisoned agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach, and threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial intrusion. —AFP