South Korea's spy agency said Friday that Pyongyang was plotting "terrorist" attacks targeting Seoul's officials and citizens overseas, with the foreign ministry raising the alert level for diplomatic missions in five countries.

The National Intelligence Service said it had recently "detected numerous signs that North Korea is preparing for terrorist attacks against our embassy staff or citizens in various countries, (such as) China, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East."

"North Korea has dispatched agents to these countries to expand surveillance of the South Korean embassies and is also engaging in specific activities such as searching for South Korean citizens as potential terrorist targets," it said in a statement.