NIIGATA – A shot was fired into a local facility of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun) and a suspected bomb was found near a credit union linked to North Korean residents, police said Wednesday.
Police acted after the daily Asahi Shimbun received a call at around 10:55 p.m. Tuesday from a man who claimed to be a member of a group calling itself Kenkoku Giyugun (Patriotic Corps for Building the Nation). He told the newspaper’s head office in Tokyo that a gun had been fired at the Chongryun office and a bomb was planted at the local Korean bank.
A similar phone call was made to the headquarters of the local daily Niigata Nippo. Both callers spoke in standard Japanese without local accents and sounded young, Asahi and Niigata Nippo workers who took the calls told the police.
Niigata Prefectural Police then found a paper bag containing an apparent explosive device near the Niigata branch of Hana Credit Union, a local bank serving pro-Pyongyang Korean residents here.
About 160 families living near the bank were evacuated early Wednesday before a police bomb squad removed the bag.
Investigators later said the bag contained a sealed stainless steel thermos containing a gas canister. A timing device incorporating a kitchen timer was wired to the thermos.
Also late Tuesday evening, a bullet was fired into a warehouse adjacent to the Chongryun office. A metal shutter bore traces of the bullet, and Niigata police later found the spent round of a 0.38 caliber bullet inside the warehouse.
No one was reported injured in either incident.
The Chongryun office is located close to the pier that used to serve the North Korean passenger-cargo ferry Mangyongbong-92.
Japanese public security authorities say North Korea used the ship for smuggling and espionage activities. Chongryun allegedly was involved in such activities, although members of the group have consistently denied the charges.
The local branch of Hana Credit Union started routine operations at 9 a.m. Wednesday. A representative of the firm said everything was normal.
Chongryun’s central standing committee issued a statement later in the day denouncing the incidents as terrorist acts, and urged the Japanese authorities to get to the bottom of the issue as swiftly as possible and take responsible measures.
North Korea has canceled port calls by the Mangyongbong in recent months, as Japanese authorities prepare to tighten inspections of North Korean ships visiting Japan, citing safety concerns.
Harassment and threats against pro-Pyongyang Korean residents and Chongryun-linked facilities have continued since North Korea’s admission last September that it had kidnapped more than a dozen Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
According to committee vice chairman Nam Sung U, there have been around 20 incidents targeting Chongryun facilities since last fall.
In November, a bullet and a threatening letter were mailed to the Chongryun headquarters in Tokyo, and in January a shot was fired at the Nagoya branch of the Chogin Chubu Credit Union.
A human rights group for Korean residents has reported hundreds of cases of verbal abuse and hate messages against students of Korean schools. Many other cases of attacks have been reported against female students of Korean schools, in which the attackers have slashed the ethnic clothing of the students with a knife.
Nam said he fears that such malicious attacks against students of Korean ethnic schools could escalate.
Niigata police are investigating whether there is any link between the two incidents in Niigata and gunshots fired at a teachers’ union office in Hiroshima in June.
A man identifying himself as member of a group that goes by the name Kenkoku Giyugun Kokuzoku Seibatsutai called the Chugoku Shimbun newspaper, based in Hiroshima, and claimed responsibility for the gunfire.
A similar group name was used by a man claiming responsibility for other incidents in which bullets were fired at Aum Shinrikyo facilities in May and June.