Shadowy group ‘broke into N Korean embassy in Spain and took diplomat into basement’

Other judicial sources said the two arrest warrants are likely to be the first of many more since the group of intruders is believed to have had 10 members. The other suspects include South Korean citizens.

Three of the intruders took North Korea’s only accredited diplomat in Spain, So Yun Sok, into the basement and encouraged him to defect from North Korea. They identified themselves as members of a group who campaigned for the «liberation of North Korea», the document said.

The group kept embassy staff tied up for several hours and then searched the premises for arms before leaving, at which point they separated into four groups and headed to Portugal. Hong Chang then flew from Lisbon to New York.

In Spain the High Court has the power to investigate criminal offences, after which formal accusations are launched.

The group tied up staff and took a diplomat into the basement where they tried to persuade him to defect.

The group tied up staff and took a diplomat into the basement where they tried to persuade him to defect.Credit:AP

Dissident organisation

The 10 people who allegedly raided the embassy belong to a mysterious dissident organisation that styles itself as a government-in-exile dedicated to toppling the ruling Kim family dynasty in North Korea, the Associated Press reported.

Details about the creation of the Cheollima Civil Defense group are hazy. The word «Cheollima» — spelled «Chollima» in the North — refers to a mythical winged horse that the government often uses in its propaganda.

In March 2017 the group said it had arranged the escape of Kim Han-sol, the son of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of Kim Jong-un who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport earlier that year.

A man claiming to be Kim Han-sol appeared in a YouTube video at the time and said he was safely with his mother and sister.

Recently the group declared on what appears to be its website the establishment of «Free Joseon», which it described as «a provisional government» that would fight against «the criminal incumbents of the north». North Korea still calls itself «Joson», the name of the dynasty that ruled the Korean Peninsula for more than 500 years.


The group also recently posted a video showing an unidentified man destroying glass-encased portraits of North Korea’s two late leaders.

After the Spanish judge released documents about the February 22 incident, the Cheollima website said it had been responding to an urgent situation at the embassy and was invited onto the property, and that «no one was gagged or beaten». The group said there were «no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event».

The Cheollima website said the group shared «certain information of enormous potential value» with the FBI, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality. The FBI declined to comment.

If Cheollima was behind the embassy break-in, it indicates the involvement of North Korean defectors who have experience working for North Korea’s military or security authorities, said Nam Sung Wook, a former president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea’s main spy agency.

«There are many young North Korean men who come to the South with more than 10 years of military experience,» said Nam, who now teaches at Korea University in South Korea. «People would be surprised at what they are capable of doing, and they aren’t always being closely watched by the South Korean government.»

The alleged leader

Adrian Hong Chang, identified in the court document as the leader of the group, appears to be a Yale-educated human rights activist who was once jailed in China while trying to rescue North Korean defectors living in hiding.

He co-founded Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) in 2005, an international activist group devoted to rescuing North Korean refugees, according to North Korean defectors and activists who spoke with the AP.


Hong Chang is known for his work helping North Koreans flee their homeland and resettle in South Korea and elsewhere. LiNK said it has helped more than 1,000 North Koreans reach safety. Fellow activists and North Korean defectors said Hong Change was detained in China briefly in the 2000s because of his work.

Kang Chol-hwan, a prominent North Korean defector-turned-activist, said he was close to Hong Chang and helped him with LiNK.

Kang, an ex-inmate of North Korea’s notorious Yodok prison camp, said Hong Chang became passionate about North Korean human rights after reading his detention memoir. He said Hong Chang visited Seoul and rallied against what he believed were pro-North Korea sympathisers and those silent on North Korean human rights issues.

Kang, who said he last saw Hong Chang about five years ago, said Hong Chang wanted to «muster anti-government forces [in North Korea] and bring down North Korea from the inside.» Kang said Hong Chang even went to Libya to study the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi so he could explore ways to topple the Kim government.

Kang believes Hong heads the whole Cheollima group.

«He has great capacity for organisation because of his experience establishing LiNK,» Kang said. «He’s a very smart guy.»

Reuters, AP

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