It could be a plot out of an action thriller. South Korean officials have arrested a North Korean defector in an alleged poison-needle plot targeting a high-profile anti-Pyongyang activist.
The suspect, only identified by the police as Ahn, is said to be a former commando in his 40s who defected to South Korea in the late 1990s. The target was activist Park Sang-hak. A North Korean defector himself, Park leads a group called Fighters for Free North Korea that routinely flies balloons over the two countries’ border with leaflets criticizing the Pyongyang government.
Ahn was reportedly trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Park earlier this month, but South Korean authorities told Park not to proceed fearing an assassination attempt. Ahn was picked up by police shortly after allegedly carrying poison-tipped needles. The authorities told Park that the suspected assassin had planned to either poison his drink or jab him with the needles.
Investigators and intelligence officials have not officially commented on the case and have avoided linking this plot directly to North Korea.
The North and South Koreas are still technically at war and Pyongyang has been known to deploy infiltrators and agents to kill targets in the South. Just last year a South Korean court jailed two North Koreans posing as defectors. They confessed that they were on a secret mission to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the most senior official ever to defect from North Korea. North Korea denied any existence to such a plot. In this latest case, if Ahn is charged under South Korea’s National Security Law, he could face the death penalty.