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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A North Korean state media video published last Thursday shows for the first time the man alleged to have been working with U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies to assassinate Kim Jong Un in April.
The video, which also presents new details about how the assassination attempt on Kim Jong Un was planned, follows a flurry of claims in state media – first emerging on May 5 – alleging that a DPRK national had been bribed to kill North Korea’s leader using “biochemical substances.”
Kim Song Il, who it is claimed is the criminal bribed by U.S. and ROK authorities to coordinate the assassination, provides extensive details about the individuals he had been cooperating with in Russia and China during the interview with state media service Uriminzokkiri.
“The first plan was to hide the nano poisonous substance in an air conditioner and make it work by voice-signal-switch at the crucial moment,” Kim says, his eyes pixelated. “The second plan was to inject Polonium into (Kim Jong Un’s) body, which is transferred from the radioactive substance.”
However, following a November 2016 instruction from South Korea, Kim says the plan evolved into an effort to “attach the poisonous substance in the chair of the supreme leadership” and that he had been asked to “collect and send as much information as possible concerning the surrounding environment of event ground where celebrations are held frequently, guard situation, the thick and the material of the chair or desk to be used by the supreme leaders.”
In the video, Kim alleges that he was first approached by South Korean national Do Hui-yun, the director of CHNK (Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees), while working in the Khabarovsk Territory of Russia in June 2014.
Do “bribed Kim with money and goods” and gave him a tablet computer, with a satellite transmitter-receiver to facilitate internet access within the DPRK, it is claimed.
Then, in August 2014, a “chief” from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service – referred to in the video as “IS” – went to Khabarovsk to meet Kim, providing him with a plan to assassinated Kim Jong Un “by use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance,” substances, it is claimed, could only be made by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“They asked me to make a plan of terror with these bio-chemical substances and handed me over 10,000 U.S. dollars, a Doogee smart phone, and a satellite transmitter-receiver,” Kim says.
Kim then claims Han, in January 2016, attempted to set up an “overseas liaison center” in Dandong, where he planned to collect two payments of $100,000 from South Korean NIS agents, as well as the items necessary to conduct the assassination.
‘They branded a company “Qingdao NAZCA Trade Co. Ltd.” in a neighboring country and desperately moved to setup an overseas liaison center,” the video says, presenting photos of “IS agent Jo Ki Chol and his secret agent Xu Guanghai,” both claimed to have also been in contact with Kim.
On March 5, 2017, the NIS eventually sent agents “equipment and materials” at 10.00am via the “Sinuiju customhouse of the DPRK for setting up the overseas liaison center.”
But at that point, on a date previous state media reporting suggests took place in mid-April, the assassination attempt was thwarted by North Korea’s Ministry of State Security and Kim was arrested.
The video is notable for the level of detail, publishing phone numbers and photos of the alleged South Korean spies, as well as those involved in the “overseas liaison center” in Dandong and the South Korean human rights activist who allegedly initially contacted Kim.
NK News attempted to call the South Korean cellphone numbers published in the video but, as of Monday, they were not in use.
Communication with the director of CHNK, Do Hui-yun, was however possible.
“There were many people who contacted me from China or Russia via email and phone calls at that time (after them having left the North),” Do said on Monday. “I do believe that the man in the North Korean video who claims that he knows me is one of those who contacted me back then.”
However, Do denied sending tablet devices to Kim and said there was “no exchange of items whatsoever… I think North Korea is trying to frame me with all these false claims.”
“I do believe that the North Korean agents are trying to damage the organization’s reputation and its innocent activities, as the NGO’s criticism of the North Korea’s human rights situation puts pressure against Pyongyang,” he said. “That video, I think, was made based on the couple of email exchanges I had with Kim.”
Tristan Webb, a senior analyst at NK Pro, said the “DPRK has never before made such a public, detailed, direct allegation of state terrorism by the U.S.”
“Neighboring governments should be able to check the veracity of at least some of the claims, which are alleged to have taken place across five countries.”
“The DPRK may be hoping for a number of things by publicizing the allegations in such a wide and detailed manner,” he continued. “It serves a domestic advantage of justifying restrictions on foreign media, and foreign advantage in muddying the waters about U.S. deliberations on whether the DPRK is a state sponsor of terror.”
On the one hand, Dr. Andrei Lankov, director of Korea Risk Group, which owns and manages NK News and NK Pro, said he was “very skeptical of such claims made by any government, and especially any non-democratic government.”
On the other, he said, “I think it’s possible and likely that the arrested person was indeed an informant of the NIS and or CIA, or both.”
“The equipment they demonstrated in their rather comical low-quality spy thriller-style video might be real, but it’s not for an assassination and the like, but rather about undercover communications,” he said.
Webb, the NK Pro analyst, said the video and context of subsequent North Korean reporting of the incident, which has been notably prolific, means it is possible the issue could continue to get attention from Pyongyang.
“It’s not inconceivable that the DPRK will push these allegations still further,” he said.
Some of the North Korea watchers who spoke to NK News after initial claims about the assassination attempt emerged in state media noted their similarity to evidence showing North Korean agents were responsible for the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia in February. Kim is said to have been killed with the VX nerve gas agent.
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun
Additional reporting: JH Ahn