11.12.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

News of the assassination attempt on Kim Jong Un

News of the assassination attempt on Kim Jong Un

The style of North Korean propaganda is peculiar enough that many people cling to it rather than the substance of the messages, preferring to declare them propaganda statements denouncing non-existent enemies. However, over time, what the audience perceived as propaganda fairy tales turned out not to be fairy tales at all.

Suffice it to recall the “blowing up statues of leaders by drone” repeatedly quoted by the author. When the North Koreans first announced the disclosure of such plans, most people marvelled at their absurdity: blowing up statues of leaders with drones sent from China, passing this activity off as “Christian democratic resistance” and using it as a pretext for an external invasion for humanitarian aid to the rebels? Are they serious? Technical experts also claimed that the drone would not carry the proper number of explosives. However, Park Sang-hak, head of the “Fighters for a Free North Korea”, later admitted that there was such a plan, and its absurdity was rather due to the peculiarities of the planners’ personalities.

Nevertheless, the “Ruler of the evil state is obliged to be paranoid”, to look for non-existent plots, and his intelligence services are obliged to periodically invent such plots in order to execute the innocent.

This is how public opinion perceived the 2016-2017 news about the attempted assassination of Kim Jong Un, which was organised by “human rights organisations” of the Republic of Korea with the assistance of the US and South Korean intelligence agencies.

The author has told this story in some detail and sees no point in repeating it: human rights activists induced a certain Kim Song Il, who was working in Khabarovsk, to assist them. Contacts continued even after his return to the DPRK; Kim was provided with the necessary devices or instructions, but the North Korean security services knew their business; Kim Son Il was arrested and gave a detailed confession, some of which is reflected in the video. However, many of the details of the story seemed absurd to commentators, and the author was repeatedly rebuked as to how one could believe the testimony of a man who was beaten out after inhuman torture.

But time passed, and in November 2023, the Daily Beast published a very interesting piece that deals with the story of Kim Song Il and other failed assassination attempts against Kim Jong Un, with Do Hee-yun, the Director General of the “Civilian Commission for the Protection of the Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees” as one of the talking heads. A very well-known figure among anti-Pyongyang propagandists. And although what he tells is a little different from the North Korean version, it gives reason to confirm that the assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un did take place. Do Hee-yun refers to a 23-minute video dedicated to the Kim Sung Il case, produced by Uriminzokkiri, which was officially declared to be propaganda and in which Kim Sung Il details a scheme to assassinate Kim Jong Un using polonium or biological weapons, while saying that the means to kill Kim Jong Un was to be presented by the CIA. ” In the video, Kim Seong-il, apparently tortured,” confesses to orchestrating the plot and, as the authors write, “Kim’s swollen, slightly bruised cheeks indicate the suffering he endured, along with alleged threats to kill his son

Curiously, according to the Daily Beast, the propaganda video remained online for only a few days, although in fact it is still online today. Perhaps the reason is that it is only available in Korean or Japanese, and therefore inaccessible to the part of propagandists.

Of course, unlike the KCNA version, Do Hee-yun shifts the entire initiative to Kim Song Il, who turns out to be not an ordinary worker, but the head of a team hired to cut down trees in the surrounding forests, so he could talk on Russian phones without fear of eavesdropping. This seems a bit odd because:

a) North Koreans in Khabarovsk worked more in construction than in logging;

b) the author’s sources say that ordinary workers also have Russian mobile phones, if only because North Korean mobile phones do not work in Russia. In any case, this lack of control makes it easier for South Korean intelligence to approach the target of recruitment.

It is VERY important for Do Hee-yun, whose many other actions were also aimed at imitating the existence of anti-Kim resistance in North Korea (what is worth one story with a fictitious dissident writer nicknamedteacher Bandi“)”, to present the situation in such a way that it was not “human rights activists” who induced some Kim to cooperate, but Kim himself, already being a representative of this resistance, made contact after hearing Do Hee-yun on South Korean propaganda radio programmes.

Do Hee-yun claims that Kim Son Il himself called him from Russia, asked to be contacted by the organisation, and for Do to inform the world about human rights violations in the DPRK. It took a long time for mutual trust to be established, but eventually, Do and Kim even started calling each other brothers.

According to Do, his conversations with Kim lasted two or three years and involved a “tight-knit circle of people” with informants from the Chief’s inner circle, including high-ranking officials. Do Hee-yun even hints that the ringleader of the plot was a certain high-ranking person in Pyongyang.

When it was time for Kim to return to the DPRK, Do Hee-yun and South Korean intelligence gave him a satellite phone that allowed him to call from Pyongyang at least three times. However, Do now suspects that the last communication sessions took place when Kim was already arrested or under the hood. As a result, according to Do Hee-yun, several people were executed, including several high-ranking officials. Their immediate family members were also caught in the rink. Moreover, he suspects that Kim Seong-il had already been arrested during the last communication sessions.

As for funding, South Korean intelligence sent the conspirators first $20,000, then $10,000, and then $50,000 twice. The money was supplied by the South Korean owner of a trading company in China, which previously had a joint venture with the DPRK to produce animated films. It is alleged that the intelligence agency was supposed to send another $300,000, but when there was a change of power in the Republic of Korea – support was curtailed, and Do was forced to notify Kim that there would be no more money.

The affairs between Do Hee-yun and Kim Seong Il were also reported by The Monthly Chosun, a monthly magazine of the ultra-conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which regularly delivers a certain amount of first-rate duck about North Korea. Choi Woo Seok-seok, the author of The Monthly Chosun article, also claims that the conspirators were a whole team, led by a man at the very top who had enjoyed the regime’s trust since Kim Jong-il: since Kim is even worse than his father, the conspirators planned to “start a revolution among the North Korean people.”

Moreover, The Monthly Chosun hinted that information about the plot against Kim Jong-un had been leaked to the North from South Korea, where “democrat” Moon Jae-in had just then come in and cleaned up the intelligence agency. And from the point of view of conservatives, especially those clustered around the Joseon Ilbo, the crypto-communist Moon was acting in Pyongyang’s interests from the very beginning.

Indirectly, the whole story is corroborated by Lee Bin Ho, who was head of intelligence under Park Kiang Hye and along with Mrs Park has been named as one of the main players in the case. So much so that they demanded his extradition.

When he was arrested in connection with the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and served 2.5 years in prison, he said at his trial that “we supported revolutionary forces inside North Korea”. In addition, in May 2018, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo awarded Lee Byung-ho the so-called George Tenet Medal for his “commitment to covert operations against North Korea.”

But the Daily Beast article doesn’t just talk about Kim Sung-il’s plot. It mentions another defector named Jang Se-yul, who now heads an organisation called the North Korean People’s Liberation Front and often talks about the intrigues and details of North Korean hacker training, ostensibly as a mathematics professor developing matmodels for war games. It is unclear when he escaped, but as early as 2015 he was busy smuggling South Korean entertainment content to the North in the hope that it would help grow the anti-government movement.

And it turns out that before his escape from the DPRK, Chang heard about another conspiracy. It is, however, a bit strange, because he gave the interview in 2015, and the events concerned 2016. Nevertheless, allegedly in that year, Kim planned to visit Vladivostok and meet with Putin there, but the trip was disrupted because North Korean intelligence learned of a plot involving people in North Korea and Russia – because in Russia “it’s very easy to get weapons,” including “long-range sniper rifles. Thirty people were implicated in the plot, after which several dozen workers were arrested and executed. Of course, Chang himself had nothing to do with it, but passed on all available information to the Republic of Korea intelligence service.

Chang Se-yul tells several other rumours about plots against Kim. The source is a certain North Korean official with ties to state security who fled to China and then became a defector to the US, who says there were multiple plots against Kim that either failed or were uncovered in the planning stage. One of Chan’s stories, speaks of a super long-range weapon capable of hitting an enemy at a distance of a mile. The investigation allegedly lasted over a year, the suspect “committed suicide after being tortured” and afterwards his body was executed in front of officials. Another story concerned live ammunition allegedly found in the possession of soldiers taking part in a parade, after which six men were executed.

Whether to believe the information or not, everyone will decide for himself because the thesis that anti-Kimchen resistance exists is very important for Western propaganda. And even if the evidence is reduced to “a friend of a friend told me about it”, the plot of the assassination attempt is similar to some TV series, and the image of Russia as a country where a North Korean worker can easily sell a machine gun is based in some places on Russia of the 90s, and in some places on Russia from South Korean TV series and films, where firearms are very often obtained “from Russians”, it does not matter in principle.

However, among fictitious stories about conspiracy, there may well be real ones, especially since the elimination of Kim is practised at South Korean or joint South Korean-American exercises, which is quite a recognised method of eliminating the military-political leadership of a probable enemy. In this regard, the creation of a brigade of “liquidators” in the Republic of Korea is commensurate with the North Korean exercises to storm the model of the Blue House, the footage of which was published in 2016.

In any case, in the case of Kim Song Il, the South Korean side recognised the facts of contacts and financing of persons who planned an assassination attempt on the country’s first person.


Konstantin ASMOLOV, candidate of historical sciences, a leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of China and Contemporary Asia of the RAS, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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