When it comes to the sinister North Korean regime, anything is possible. That’s why South Korean police are so worried that they have uncovered evidence the man who slashed the face of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert made a highly unusual seven visits to North Korea.
Almost no South Koreans travel to the Hermit Kingdom, since the two nations have been technically in a state of war since the Korean War truce of 1953.
Kim Ki-jong, a 55-year-old Korean nationalist who attacked Lippert, said he did so to protest joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises now underway. I was in the conference room near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, when the attack occurred and witnessed the chaos that ensued.
"We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect's visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the U.S. ambassador," Yoon Myeong-seong, chief of police in Seoul's central Jongno district, told me and other reporters here.
Police officials told me they are especially concerned because Kim denied any links to North Korea and claimed he had never visited it. "He was lying. We have records of approving his travel so we want to know why he wanted to deceive us," one official told me. A police raid on Kim’s home also uncovered large amounts of materials published in North Korea.
It would be highly unusual for a country to approve an attack on a U.S. ambassador, but North Korea’s bizarre behavior over the years mark it as one of the most unpredictable of regimes. A 2011 report from the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea concluded the nation has abducted more than 180,000 people from 12 countries, a record that helped land the country on a list of state sponsors of terrorism until President Bush removed it in 2008.
Its international record is replete with sudden violence and aggression. In 2010, two years after being delisted, North Korea launched an unprovoked attacked on the Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel. The ship was sunk with the loss of 46 lives. Then late last year, there was the hacking of Sony Pictures by entities tied to North Korea.
Here is the record of other North Korean atrocities:
- In 1968, it seized the U.S. reconnaissance ship Pueblo off the country’s coast. It killed one sailor and held the rest of the crew captive for 11 months.
- In 1969, two North Korean MIG fighters shot down a U.S. aircraft outside North Korean airspace and killed 31 crewmen.
- In 1976, in what was found to be a pre-planned attack, the North Koreans axed to death two U.S. officers who were trimming a tree in the Demilitarized Zone separating the Koreas.
As for South Korea:
- The North’s aggression has included an assassination attempt on South Korean President Park Chung-hee in 1976, an attack that led to the death of the president’s mother.
- In 1983, North Korean agents targeted an official South Korean party visiting Myanmar that included the country’s president. A blast involving the detonation of three bombs left 21 people dead and 46 injured. Even after an official investigation by the Myanmar government found three North Korean military officers were behind the attack, Pyongyang denied any responsibility.
- Finally, two North Korean spies planted a bomb on a Korean Air flight in 1987, killing 115 people. It was that incident that prompted the United States to list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism the next year.
If any clear link can be established between the man who viciously tried to murder our ambassador in Seoul and the North Koreans, it will be time for the U.S. to re-evaluate its policy.
After all, it was none other than Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator, who wrote the Bush administration a decade ago urging that it keep North Korea on the terrorism sponsor list.
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