North Korea has described a dramatic raid at its embassy in Madrid last month as a “grave terrorist attack” and urged Spanish authorities to bring the suspects to justice.
The statement, issued by a North Korean foreign ministry official and carried by the country’s state media, is Pyongyang’s first public response to the mysterious break-in.
The embassy raid was “an illegal intrusion into and occupation of a diplomatic mission” and a “flagrant violation of international law”, said the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The North Korean statement comes just days after a Spanish judge revealed that 10 suspects entered the North Korean embassy in Madrid on February 22 and held staff hostage while they stole electronic devices, before fleeing to Portugal.
The Spanish judge’s report named the group’s leader as Adrian Hong Chang, a 35-year-old Mexican citizen living in the US who is well known in the international North Korean human rights community, and said he immediately travelled to the US and offered information taken from the embassy to the FBI.
On Sunday, the North Korean official appeared to refrain from criticising the US over the raid. However, KCNA reported that Pyongyang was “following the rumours” that the FBI and a “small fry anti-DPRK” group were involved — a reference to critics of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.
The US state department has said the government had no involvement with the raid. But Spanish media, citing anonymous sources, have previously linked the assailants to the CIA. According to a person familiar with the matter, Mr Hong has had prior contact with US intelligence groups; US intelligence agencies regularly meet groups that help North Korean defectors.
Cheollima Civil Defense, which says it is a group working to overthrow the regime of Kim Jong Un and help North Korean defectors, last week claimed responsibility for the embassy raid. The group has previously claimed to be protecting Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong Un who was killed in Malaysia in 2017. It said on Thursday that it had temporarily suspended operations.
The raid occurred five days before the summit between US president Donald Trump and Mr Kim in Vietnam.
The response from Pyongyang comes at a tenuous stage in its dealings with Washington following the Hanoi summit, where Mr Trump and Mr Kim failed to forge a new agreement on ending the North Korean nuclear weapons programme or easing international sanctions.
Beyond the bluster from Pyongyang, Olga Krasnyak, a diplomacy and foreign policy expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, did not expect a severe retaliation from North Korea over the Madrid incident. Such a move, she said, would “stall or even prevent Kim Jong Un as he continues his diplomatic efforts to normalise relations with the international community”.