SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently ordered preparations for launching attacks on South Korea, the South’s spy agency disclosed Thursday, as worries about the North grow after its recent nuclear test and rocket launch.
In a closed-door briefing to members of the ruling Saenuri Party, the National Intelligence Service said Kim’s spy agency has begun work to implement his order to “actively muster capabilities” to carry out cyber- and other attacks on South Korea, according to one Saenuri official who attended the meeting.
North Korea’s history of attacking South Korea includes the 2010 shelling on an island in which four South Koreans were killed, and the 1987 bombing of a South Korean plane that killed all 115 people on board. But it is impossible to independently confirm claims about any such attack preparations.
The Saenuri official refused to say whether the briefing discussed how the information was obtained. The NIS, which has a mixed record on predicting developments in North Korea, said it could not confirm its reported assessment.
During the briefing, the NIS, cited studies on past North Korean provocations and other unspecified assessments and said the attacks could target anti-Pyongyang activists, defectors and government officials in South Korea, the Saenuri official said requesting anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media publicly.
Attacks on subways, shopping malls and other public places could also happen, he said.
The official quoted the NIS as saying North Korea could launch poisoning attacks on the activists and defectors, or lure them to China where they would be kidnapped.
The standoff with North Korea isn’t expected to calm down soon, because Seoul and Washington are discussing deploying a sophisticated U.S. missile defense system in South Korea that Pyongyang warns would be a source of regional tension.
The allies also say their upcoming annual springtime military drills will be the largest ever. The North says the drills are preparation to stage a northward invasion.
Seoul defense officials also said that they began preliminary talks on Feb. 7 with the United States on deploying the missile system, called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, the same day North Korea conducted what it said was a satellite launch, which was condemned by Seoul and Washington as a banned test of missile technology in disguise.
The talks are aimed at working out details for formal missile deployment talks, such as who’ll represent each side, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.
The deployment is opposed by China and Russia too. Opponents say the system could help U.S. radar spot missiles in other countries.
The United States on Wednesday flew four stealth F-22 fighter jets over South Korea and reaffirmed that it maintains an “ironclad commitment” to the defense of its Asian ally. Last month, it sent a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber to South Korea following the North’s fourth nuclear test.
Foreign analysts say the North’s rocket launch and nuclear test put the country further along it its quest for a nuclear-armed missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.