North Korea accuses US of ‘mugging’ diplomats at airport

Delegation ‘literally mugged’ in ‘illegal and heinous act of provocation’ in New York

John F Kennedy airport, New York. Photograph: Justin Lane/Reuters/File

John F Kennedy airport, New York. Photograph: Justin Lane/Reuters/File


North Korea has accused US authorities of “mugging” its diplomats at John F Kennedy airport in New York and using physical violence to confiscate a diplomatic package.

Following the incident, the communist nation has questioned New York as the seat of the United Nations.

According to a statement from the foreign ministry in Pyongyang carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency, a delegation returning from a UN conference on the rights of persons with disabilities “was literally mugged . . . in an illegal and heinous act of provocation” which was planned and organised.

They said a group of 20 officials from the US department of homeland security and police officers made “a violent assault like gangsters”.

“As the diplomats vigorously resisted, they grabbed the diplomatic package using physical violence and made off,” the ministry was quoted as saying by KCNA.

“This clearly shows that the US is a felonious and lawless gangster state,” a spokesman said.

The incident comes after a relative calm couple of weeks on the Korean Peninsula, following months of rising tension over North Korea’s nuclear tests and rocket launches in defiance of UN sanctions.

The prospects of somehow improving relations between Washington and North Korea have nosedived since Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, returned to his Ohio home in a coma after spending 17 months in a North Korean jail for stealing a propaganda poster.

North Korean officials claimed Mr Warmbier fell into a coma in March last year after he contracted botulism and was given a sleeping pill. Doctors say Mr Warmbier has severe brain damage and is in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”.


Following the airport incident, the North Koreans have asked the world to “seriously reconsider” New York as a venue for major international events and demanded Washington provide an explanation for infringing upon its sovereignty.

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, contents in a diplomatic package cannot be seen without consent from the owner government. But exercise of the privilege increasingly has been curtailed as part of precautions against terrorism.

When Kim Jong-un’s half brother Kim Jong-nam was apparently assassinated with the lethal nerve agent VX in February, there were suspicions North Korea brought the chemical weapon into Malaysia in a diplomatic package.

“If the US fails to give its due response to our demand which is all too reasonable and fair enough, it will be totally responsible for all the consequences to be entailed,” the ministry said.

Relations between North and South Korea have taken a turn for the worse after North Korea said its southern rival should adopt a “hands-off” policy regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, which it said were a matter solely for North Korea and the US.

The South’s newly inaugurated foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha underlined the need for Seoul to get more actively involved in resolving the nuclear stalemate while further strengthening the alliance with the US.

“(We) should sternly respond to provocations, but all options should be employed, including sanctions and dialogue, to induce the North’s denuclearisation,” Ms Kang told staff. “In this process, efforts should be made to further strengthen the South Korea-US alliance, a bedrock of our diplomacy and security.”

Additional reporting: Agencies