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Seoul alerts overseas missions to NK terror threats

May 2, 2024 - 18:15 By Ji Da-gyum

The South Korean government has raised its terror alert level from the lowest to the third-highest in its four-tier system, specifically targeting five overseas diplomatic missions, in light of intelligence indicating potential terror threats from North Korea.

The announcement was made Thursday by the Foreign Ministry and the Office for Government Policy Coordination following a meeting convened under the National Counter Terrorism Center.

The purpose of the meeting was to "assess the counterterrorism preparedness of overseas missions and discuss measures necessary to ensure the safety of overseas diplomatic missions and diplomatic staffs," according to a joint statement released by the two agencies.

"The adjustment comes in response to recent intelligence gathered by our intelligence agencies, indicating attempts by North Korea to threaten our diplomatic staff," the statement read.

The government has elevated its terrorism alert level for five overseas diplomatic missions "from attention to alert."

The five missions include the South Korean embassies in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as well as the South Korean consulates in Vladivostok, Russia and the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

South Korea's terrorism alert is classified into four levels: attention, caution, alert and severe, each reflecting the nature of the terrorism threat.

The joint statement explained, "The 'alert level' is issued when there is a high likelihood of a terrorist incident taking place."

South Korea's National Intelligence Service on Thursday said it "has provided support to relevant agencies in light of numerous indications suggesting North Korea's preparation of terrorist attacks aimed at our diplomatic staffs and citizens across different countries, including China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East."

"North Korea has deployed agents to these countries to intensify surveillance on diplomatic missions of the Republic of Korea and has engaged in specific activities, including the identification of our citizens as targets for terrorism," the spy agency said, referring to South Korea by its official name.

The spy agency also offered detailed background information on North Korea's motives for potential terrorist attacks, which are linked to the increasing defection of North Korean elites who had been living abroad.

The primary driver behind these terror attempts, as identified by the NIS, is the spate of defections of "elite individuals, comprising diplomatic staff, traders, and students, who harbor a sense of disillusionment toward the North Korean regime."

The trend coincides with a significant increase in the number of long-term overseas residents returning to North Korea since the latter half of last year, following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NIS claimed, "Officials from specialized agencies, such as senior diplomatic staff and members of the Ministry of State Security responsible for overseeing North Korean expatriates abroad, are assessed to have provided false reports to (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un, alleging that defections were orchestrated by external actors, in order to evade accountability for 'voluntary breakaways.'"

The spy agency said it has assessed that North Korea "has been planning retaliations against our diplomatic personnel" against that backdrop.

The NIS said that it has been "intensifying its intelligence efforts, considering the potential for terrorism not only in countries where signs of North Korea's terrorist threats have been identified but also in other regions."

Furthermore, the NIS emphasized its commitment to closely collaborating with relevant agencies such as the Foreign Ministry to safeguard the safety of South Koreans.