Three times in recent weeks, activists opposing the regime of North Korea's Kim Jong Il have been targeted for assassination by well-trained agents wielding poisoned needles, fellow activists allege.

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BEIJING — Three times in recent weeks, activists opposing the regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il have been targeted for assassination by well-trained agents wielding poisoned needles, fellow activists allege.

A 46-year-old South Korean pastor living in Dandong, a Chinese city near the North Korean border, was found unconscious in the street — his face and fingers badly discolored — and died.

The following afternoon in the Chinese city of Yanji, a South Korean involved with missionary work was standing at a traffic light when he felt a pinprick in his lower back. As he collapsed to the sidewalk, he heard a man muttering behind him in Chinese, “Sorry, sorry.” He survived the apparent attack.

Initially, the stories about North Korean assassins wielding poison needles sounded improbable, but the activists gained some support for their charges this month when South Korean intelligence announced that it had foiled an attack in Seoul in which the intended weapon was a poisoned needle. The target in that case was Park Sung-hak, an activist who had launched balloons into North Korea carrying anti-regime leaflets.

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Analysts who follow North Korea say the three incidents, coming in rapid succession, are signs of an increasing belligerent security apparatus that is willing to use any means to silence critics.

“It is clearly terrorism,” said Young Howard, head of Open Radio for North Korea, which reports from Seoul on the reclusive regime. He believes the attacks were directed by Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s youngest son and heir apparent, as a way to bolster his standing among hard-liners within the regime. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t fear international censure. He is only thinking about increasing his power within the system.”

The man killed in Dandong, who has been identified publicly only as Pastor Kim, had been a key operative in an underground railroad that helps North Koreans escape to China from their impoverished homeland. He had raised money for the operation from Korean churches in New York and Los Angeles, according to fellow activists.

In Seoul, a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, Kim Jeong Ok, confirmed the pastor’s death, but said that an initial autopsy showed no signs of poisoning and that the family declined a second autopsy.

“Whatever the truth is, the (South) Korean Foreign Ministry has asked the Chinese government and police to be more attentive to the security of expatriate Koreans,” the spokesman said.

Fellow activists say they have no doubt that Pastor Kim was a victim of foul play.

“I’m confident, 100 percent, that it was poisoning,” said Do Hee Yun, head of the Seoul-based Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees.