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Who Attacked the North Korean Embassy in Spain?

The BBC reports on a very strange story from Spain about last month’s attack on the North Korean embassy:

Spanish investigators are probing an alleged attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid.

On 22 February, a group of 10 assailants reportedly broke into the building, tying up, beating and interrogating eight people inside.

The incident took place just days before a key summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

And now there are reports US intelligence services were involved.

The alleged involvement of men with ties to the CIA was first reported in the Spanish daily El Pais. According to El Pais‘ sources, the men that attacked the embassy may have been looking for information on North Korean diplomat Kim Hyok-chol, who had served as North Korea’s ambassador to Spain until he was expelled in 2017. Kim has also been one of the leading officials involved in the negotiations with the U.S. over the last year.

Whatever the reason for it, invading another state’s embassy and assaulting the personnel there obviously constitute gross violations of the conventions governing protections for diplomatic facilities. Judging from these reports, the attack was extraordinarily brazen and risky. It is doubtful that any information obtained from the devices that the assailants stole could have been worth the risk of attacking an embassy and beating up embassy staffers, but someone must have thought it was. If anyone connected with the U.S. government was involved, both Spain and North Korea will be understandably outraged. The intelligence committees in Congress should look into this matter to determine what role, if any, the U.S. government had in this incident.

Update (3/15): The Washington Postreports that the attack was apparently the work of a North Korean dissident group:

The group behind the late February operation is known as Cheollima Civil Defense, a secretive dissident organization committed to overthrowing the Kim dynasty, people familiar with the planning and execution of the mission told The Washington Post.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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