A group seeking to overthrow North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been thrust into the international spotlight after a Spanish court investigating a break-in at the North Korean embassy in Madrid named apparent members as suspects.
Cheollima Civil Defense, also known as Free Joseon, first went public in 2017, when it said it was protecting the family of Kim Jong-un's half brother Kim Jong-nam, who was murdered in a Malaysian airport.
Spanish authorities unsealed court documents on Tuesday accusing at least 10 individuals of storming into the embassy, restraining and beating some staff members and holding them hostage for hours before fleeing with stolen computers and hard drives.
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Such an action would be one of the most militant operations ever carried out by activists opposed to North Korea's government.
"Parties seeking to 'out' those in Madrid have painted a target on the backs of those seeking only to protect others," Cheollima Civil Defense said in a website post, apparently acknowledging for the first time its involvement in the raid.
"They have chosen to side with Pyongyang's criminal, totalitarian rulers over their victims," the group said. It disputed police allegations that weapons or violence were used in the break-in.
Of the 10 suspects, the documents listed the names and birth dates of seven, including citizens of Mexico, the United States, and South Korea. All but one are under 30 years old.
The Mexican national named by Spanish authorities as one of the embassy raid's leaders, Adrian Hong, is a longtime activist who helped found the refugee aid organisation Liberty in North Korea (LiNK).
Spanish court documents said Hong played a leading role in the break-in, and that after fleeing to the United States he contacted the FBI to offer information that had been stolen.
Hong could not be reached for immediate comment.