After arresting two American university instructors and laying out what it says was an elaborate, CIA-backed plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea is claiming to be the victim of state-sponsored terrorism — from the White House, AP reported.
The assertion comes as the U.S. is considering putting the North back on its list of terror sponsors. But the vitriolic outrage over the alleged plan to assassinate Kim last month is also being doled out with an unusually big dollop of retaliation threats, raising a familiar question: What on earth is going on in Pyongyang?
North Korea’s state-run media announced Sunday that an ethnic Korean man with U.S. citizenship was “intercepted” two days ago by authorities for unspecified hostile acts against the country. He was identified as Kim Hak Song, an employee of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
That came just days after the North announced the detention of an accounting instructor at the same university, Kim Sang Dok, also a U.S. citizen, for “acts of hostility aimed to overturn” the country. Their workplace is North Korea’s only privately funded university and has a large number of foreign teachers, including Americans.
What connection, if any, the arrests have to the alleged plot is unknown. But they bring to four the number of U.S. citizens now known to be in custody in the North.
“Obviously this is concerning,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday. “We are well-aware of it, and we are going to work through the embassy of Sweden ... through our State Department to seek the release of the individuals there.”
Sweden handles U.S. consular affairs in North Korea, including those of American detainees.
The others are Otto Warmbier, serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts — he allegedly tried to steal a propaganda banner at his tourist hotel — and Kim Dong Chul, serving a 10-year term with hard labor for alleged espionage.
The reported arrest of another “Mr. Kim” — the North Korean man allegedly at the center of the assassination plot — is more ominous.
According to state media reports that began Friday, he is a Pyongyang resident who was “ideologically corrupted and bribed” by the CIA and South Korea’s National Intelligence Service while working in the timber industry in Siberia in 2014. The Russian far east is one of the main places where North Korean laborers are allowed to work abroad.
The reports say Kim — his full name has not been provided — was converted into a “terrorist full of repugnance and revenge against the supreme leadership” of North Korea and collaborated in an elaborate plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un at a series of events, including a major military parade, that were held last month.
They allege Kim was in frequent contact through satellite communications with the “murderous demons” of the NIS and CIA, who instructed him to use a biochemical substance that is the “know-how of the CIA” and that the hardware, supplies and funds would be borne by the South Korean side.