A shadowy underground North Korean “government-in-exile” on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a mysterious raid last month on the DPRK embassy in Spanish capital of Madrid.
In a statement that comes following weeks of speculation over who was responsible for the raid — which has been reported to have seen embassy staff bound and gagged and equipment stolen — Cheollima insisted that the incident was “not an attack.”
“We responded to an urgent situation in the Madrid embassy,” the statement, titled “Facts About Madrid,” reads. “We were invited into the embassy, and contrary to reports, no one was gagged or beaten. Out of respect for the host nation of Spain, no weapons were used.”
The statement is the first public admission of responsibility for the February 22 raid on the embassy in Madrid, which took place just days before a landmark second U.S.-DPRK summit and which some have speculated was linked to U.S. or South Korean intelligence.
An earlier report from the Washington Post, however, named Cheollima Civil Defense as having been responsible.
The group on Tuesday denied any government links to the raid, saying “no other governments [were] involved with or aware of our activity until after the event.”
Full statement from Cheollima Civil Defense appearing to claim responsibility for last month’s raid in Madrid pic.twitter.com/1CHnGrRiWw
— Oliver Hotham (@OliverHotham) March 26, 2019
The statement comes just hours after a Spanish court named a Mexican national called Adrian Hong Chang as the leader of a group of ten assailants on the DPRK embassy in Madrid.
A U.S. national called Sam Ryu and a South Korean citizen called Woo Ran Lee were also reportedly involved in the organization, and identified themselves as “members of an association or movement of human rights for the liberation of North Korea.”
The group stole hard disks, computers and flash drives, the Spanish High Court said in an official document, and they attempted to sell the data to the FBI, though did not specify the source of the latter claim.
The Cheollima Civil Defense statement on Tuesday appeared to corroborate some of these accusation, however, saying that they had “shared certain information of enormous potential value with the FBI in the United States, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality.”
“This information was shared voluntarily and on their request, not our own,” it read. “Those terms appear to have been broken.”
The group also claims to have “evidence verifying our account” and emphasized that its members “continue to be engaged in extraordinarily sensitive work around the world.”
The Cheollima Civil Defense organization first emerged in March 2017 following the death of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam.
Their first public statement came in a video featuring Kim Jong Nam’s son Kim Han Sol, with an accompanying statement saying that they were protecting Kim and his family.
The group has stepped up its public profile in recent weeks
They then stayed largely quiet for the next two years, with intermittent statements claiming to have carried out more rescues of high-ranking North Koreans.
On March 1 this year, however, the group broke its silence with a statement declaring the establishment of the “free Joseon” government in exile.
It has since then released a series of public statements, with one appearing to claim responsibility for a recent incident in which the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur was vandalized and another hoping to raise money through selling “G-Visas” to visit a future “free Joseon.”
The group also this month released a video simply titled “In Our Homeland,” purporting to show a North Korean destroying portraits of the country’s founding President Kim Il Sung and late leader Kim Jong Il.
The group has repeatedly urged international media not to reveal the identities of those involved in the group, with a statement last week urging journalists to keep such information confidential as it might jeopardize the safety of those involved.
Cheollima’s statement on Wednesday reiterated this demand in even stronger terms.
“To share information that may help identify any of us who take risks to protect others is to aid and abet the regime in Pyongyang,” it said. “The leaks and breaches of trust were abhorrent acts pursued in the name of political expediency, in service to a regime who has tortured and killed millions.”
“Parties seeking to ‘out’ those in Madrid have painted a target on the backs of those seeking only to protect others; they have chosen to side with Pyongyang’s criminal, totalitarian rulers over their victims.”
The North Korean government is yet to publicly comment on the raid on its embassy or on the activities of Cheollima Civil Defense.