Secret North Korean agencies linked to Japanese abductions

Two top-secret agencies within North Korea are suspected of having been involved in the abductions of Japanese nationals, sources said Saturday.

The agencies — known as Room 35 and the Operation Division — are affiliated with the Workers Party of Korea and are in charge of abductions, terrorism and information-gathering, according to sources at public safety authorities in Japan and South Korea.

The sources said South Korean intelligence officials had confirmed previously that Room 35 was involved in the abductions. The recent Japanese fact-finding mission to Pyongyang also believes the Operation Division was involved, based on interviews with five of the abductees.

The five are two couples — Yasushi Chimura, 47, and Fukie Hamamoto, 47; and Kaoru Hasuike, 45, and Yukiko Okudo, 46, — and Hitomi Soga, 43, who married former U.S. soldier Robert Jenkins in North Korea.

The five Japanese told the fact-finding team that they were abducted near the Sea of Japan coast and taken to the northeastern North Korean port of Chongjin after changing ships several times.

Chongjin is a base for the Operation Division’s espionage activities against Japan. As a result, it is very likely the organization was involved.

Many spy ships are reportedly deployed from the port. In March 1999, two suspected North Korean spy ships fled to the port while being pursued by Japan Coast Guard patrol boats after entering Japanese territorial waters off the Noto Peninsula on the Sea of Japan coast.

Another unidentified ship appeared in the Sea of Japan on Sept. 4. It also headed for the port after being chased by the coast guard.

The Operation Division is responsible for training and instructing spies as well as procuring spy ships, they said.

Room 35 is believed to have masterminded the terrorist bombing of a Korean Air aircraft in 1987. Former North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui, who blew up the plane, studied at Kim Jong Il political and military university, which comes under the Operation Division.

In addition, An Myong Jin, a former North Korean agent in South Korea who defected, testified that he witnessed a Japanese woman at the university who appeared to be Megumi Yokota. She is one of the 13 Japanese nationals who Pyongyang admitted were abducted or lured by North Korea agents between 1977 and 1983.

An said an instructor at the university who used to belong to the Operation Division’s liaison office abducted the Japanese woman.

There are five special clandestine agencies in North Korea that compete or cooperate with each other, the sources said.