SEOUL – A dissident group that seeks to overthrow North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un claimed the responsibility on Wednesday for a raid at Pyongyang’s embassy in Madrid last month, but denied that weapons were used.
Cheollima Civil Defense, renamed recently as Free Joseon (Free Korea), on its website insisted that the Feb. 22 break-in at the North Korean embassy “was not an attack.”
“We responded to an urgent situation in the Madrid embassy. We were invited into the embassy, and contrary to reports, no one was gagged or beaten,” said the group that has proclaimed a North Korean government in exile.
The claim comes a day after Judge Jose de la Mata lifted a gag order on the judicial investigation into the incident.
The court ruling noted that Adrian Hong Chang, a Mexican, entered the embassy using a false identity to meet with So Yun-Sok, the main North Korean representative in Spain.
But contrary to the group’s claims, the ruling, which does not mention about Cheollima Civil Defense, said Adrian Hong paved the way for the rest of his accomplices in raiding the building, assaulting the occupants and immobilizing them with shackles and ties.
The ruling said the intruders used machetes, knives, iron bars and simulated firearms to intimidate embassy personnel before decamping with several computers from there.
But the group claimed that all occupants in the embassy were treated with “dignity” and given “necessary caution.”
“There were no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event,” it said, adding the failed Hanoi summit between North Korea and the United States had no relation to this incident.
“We recognize and apologize for any inconveniences caused to the authorities of Spain, who have been caught in the middle of a difficult situation,” said the group in its online statement.
It said the group was in possession of evidence supporting the veracity of its claims but was unable to share it to “protect those who seek our help, and those who take great risk to protect others” and to avoid turning them into targets of the Pyongyang regime.
However, the statement admitted that Cheollima Civil Defense had “shared certain information of enormous potential value with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in the United States, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality” but “those terms appear to have been broken.”
Judge De la Mata has requested the US for the extradition of Adrian Hong along with US citizen Sam Ryu, who is considered the primary suspect as Cheollima Civil Defense leader.
News website NK News, citing sources close to the issue, reported that Adrian Hong is one of the founders of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) that supports defectors from the country. Adrian Hong is believed to have secured a Mexican passport on the basis of being the son of missionaries who were in Mexico.
A year after founding LiNK, Adrian Hong was detained in China and deported to the US. He was held with two other LiNK members and six North Koreans whom he was trying to help defect to South Korea, something Beijing does not allow.
LiNK representatives contacted by EFE sent a brief statement claiming that they have no relations with Adrian Hong.
“Adrian Hong was a co-founder of Liberty in North Korea as a college student but has had no involvement with the organization for over 10 years. We have no knowledge of his recent activities, and we have no information on the Madrid embassy incident other than what has been published,” read the statement.
NK News said Hong founded an organization called Joseon Institute with a purpose similar to Cheollima Civil Defense that has to have rescued North Koreans threatened by the Pyongyang regime.
Adrian Hong, who also worked with the TED Foundation, was also the managing director of another New York-based entity called Pegasus Strategies.
Cheollima is a mythical horse of supernatural speed in Chinese mythology which in Korean legend takes the form of a winged steed, a stark reminder of Pegasus – the winged horse of the Greek Olympus.