North Korea yesterday threatened strikes on US military bases in Japan and Guam, escalating tensions as suspicion deepened that Pyongyang was behind a cyberattack on South Korean broadcasters and banks.
The tone of the threat, attributed to a spokesman for the North Korean army’s supreme command, stood out for its precise naming of targets.
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest since 2010, with Pyongyang irate at the use of nuclear-capable US B-52 bombers and nuclear-powered submarines in joint military drills with South Korea.
“The US should not forget that the Andersen Base on Guam where B-52s take off and naval bases on the Japan mainland and Okinawa where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are all within the range of our precision target assets,” the army spokesman said.
North Korea has successfully tested medium-range missiles that can reach Japan, but has no proven long-range missile capability that would allow it to hit targets on the US mainland or Guam — more than 3,200km away.
Nevertheless, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced last week that Washington had decided to bolster missile defenses along the US west coast so as to “stay ahead of the threat.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a more general threat to destroy US bases in the Pacific on Wednesday, as he directed a drone strike exercise.
The response from Tokyo was measured, with a Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official voicing regret at the “provocative action.”
In a further sign of current tensions, North Korea conducted a one-hour civil defence drill yesterday morning, sounding a national air raid alert over state radio.
In South Korea, government agencies were trying to confirm who was behind a concerted cyberattack the day before on three TV broadcasters and three banks that crippled their computer networks.
The regulatory Korea Communications Commission said it had sourced the attack to an IP address in China, fueling suspicions that North Korea may was responsible.
Previous cyberattacks blamed on North Korea have also been tracked to Chinese sources, and security analysts in South Korea believe the North sends hackers to China to hone their skills and operate from there.