Christopher Ahn was arrested and charged in Los Angeles over the Madrid embassy raid. (AP: Manu Fernandez, File)
A man suspected of involvement in a mysterious dissident group’s raid on North Korea’s embassy in Madrid has been arrested by US authorities.
- Former US Marine Christopher Ahn was arrested in relation to the February embassy raid
- The apartment of Free Joseon group leader Adrian Hong was also raided by US federal agents
- Free Joseon claims it was invited on to the property of the embassy and “no one was gagged or beaten”
Christopher Ahn, a former US Marine, was arrested and charged on Friday in Los Angeles, according to a person familiar with the matter. The specific charges against Mr Ahn are not immediately clear.
The person could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Separately, federal agents raided the apartment of Adrian Hong, a leader of the Free Joseon group, the person said. Mr Hong was not arrested.
Free Joseon, also known as the Cheollima Civil Defense group, styles itself as a government-in-exile dedicated to toppling the ruling Kim family dynasty in North Korea.
The group said it consists of North Korean defectors living in countries around the world, but that it has not worked with or contacted defectors “living under tight security” in South Korea.
Lee Wolosky, a lawyer for the group, said in a statement that he was “dismayed that the US Department of Justice has decided to execute warrants against US persons that derive from criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime.”
“The last US citizen who fell into the custody of the Kim regime returned home maimed from torture and did not survive,” Mr Wolosky said, referring to college student Otto Warmbier’s 2017 death.
“We have received no assurances from the US Government about the safety and security of the US nationals it is now targeting,” he added.
A Spanish police investigator in the case said in Madrid on Saturday that Mr Ahn was identified by the Spanish police at a later stage of its investigation into the February 22 raid and that an international arrest warrant was also issued against him.
That’s in addition to warrants issued for the other suspects named last month in Spanish court documents.
The investigator, who spoke under condition of anonymity given the sensitivities of the case, said that because of judicial secrecy, he couldn’t confirm how many arrest warrants had been issued by Spanish authorities beyond the two initially confirmed.
Cheollima Civil Defense claimed responsibility for the attack on North Korea’s embassy in Madrid. (AP: Bernat Armangue)
A Spanish judge said an investigation uncovered evidence that “a criminal organisation” shackled and gagged embassy staff before escaping with computers, hard drives and documents.
Cheollima said on its website that it was responding to an urgent situation at the embassy and was invited onto the property, and that “no one was gagged or beaten”.
The group said there were “no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event”.
The Spanish court report said the intruders urged North Korea’s only accredited diplomat in Spain, So Yun-sok, to defect.
In March 2017, the group said it had arranged the escape of Kim Han-sol, the son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam, who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport earlier that year.
The Cheollima website said the group shared “certain information of enormous potential value” from the raid with the FBI, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality.
According to the Spanish court report, Mr Hong flew to the United States on February 23, got in touch with the FBI and offered to share material and videos.
The report did not say what type of information the items contained or whether the FBI accepted the offer.
The FBI said its standard practice is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.