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Suspect in NK Embassy raid says he could be killed if he leaves US

Christopher Ahn speaks to reporters after attending his extradition hearing in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Christopher Ahn speaks to reporters after attending his extradition hearing in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
A Korean American facing extradition to Spain for taking part in a raid of the North Korean Embassy in Madrid in February 2019 said he could be assassinated if he leaves the US.

Christopher Ahn, a member of the group Free Joseon, which has helped several high-level North Koreans defect, was arrested by the FBI in Los Angeles in April 2019. Spanish prosecutors have asked the US to hand him over to face charges including unlawful break-in, illegal confinement, willful bodily harm and theft.

“The court has recognized that there is a danger to my life and those around me if I leave this country. Quite frankly, they’ve told me that that danger is here, in the United States, and that that danger exponentially increases if I leave the country,” Ahn said in an interview with US broadcaster Fox News.

“The same Department of Justice that has told me that if I leave the country that I could be assassinated, is the same Department of Justice that’s trying to extradite me. It’s very disappointing.”

Ahn has said in court that he and others went into the North Korean Embassy in Madrid to make it look as if a North Korean diplomat were being kidnapped, as part of a plan to help the diplomat defect without putting his relatives back home in danger of retribution.

But the diplomat changed his mind about defecting after the wife of another senior official at the embassy, who thought her life was in danger, jumped off a terrace and called the police.

“The whole reason why we went in there, and the whole reason why I participated is because I wanted to help people,” the 39-year-old former US Marine officer told Fox News.

Spanish authorities said in their extradition request that Ahn and his group violently assaulted and physically restrained embassy staff and family members, including a child, using “knives, machetes, iron bars, imitation handguns, shackles and cables.”

“If you actually look at what actually the evidence is and you use some common sense, it’s pretty obvious to tell which story is more believable,” said Ahn, who said he could not go into detail about what happened inside the embassy for legal reasons.

The parents of Otto Warmbier, an American college student whom the North Korean regime arrested, tortured and sent home to die in 2017, appeared in court to support Ahn on Tuesday.

Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, also testified in support of Ahn.

“North Korea shows no qualms about going after its targets anywhere in the world, including Europe. And North Korea has shown that there is no expiration date on this assassination job. They are indefatigable. They will go and look for Christopher in Spain,” he said.

The judge is expected to take several weeks before announcing a decision in Ahn’s extradition case.

Ahn also helped the family of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, flee from potential danger shortly after Kim Jong-nam was killed by people allegedly hired by North Korean agents in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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