North Korea warns Seoul of 'serious threat' over missile remark – Arab News

SEOUL: The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the South Korean defense minister a “scum-like guy” for talking about preemptive strikes on the North, warning Sunday that the South may face “a serious threat.”
Kim Yo Jong’s statement came amid heightened tensions between the rival Koreas over the North’s spate of weapons tests this year, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile launch in more than four years. Some experts say her statement could signal that North Korea will conduct more significant weapons tests soon and take a hard-line stance on South Korea.
The ICBM test that broke North Korea’s four-year moratorium on big weapons tests was a huge embarrassment to South Korea’s liberal President Moon Jae-in, who has pushed hard to achieve greater reconciliation between the countries and find a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
During a visit to the country’s strategic missile command on Friday, South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said that South Korea has the ability and readiness to launch precision strikes on North Korea if it detects the North intends to fire missiles at South Korea. Seoul has long maintained such a preemptive military strategy to cope with North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear threats, but it was still highly unusual for a senior Seoul official under the Moon administration to publicly discuss it.
On Sunday, Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, issued blistering rhetoric directed at Suh and threats toward Seoul.
“The senseless and scum-like guy dare mention a ‘preemptive strike’ at a nuclear weapons state,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by state media. “South Korea may face a serious threat owing to the reckless remarks made by its defense minister.”
“South Korea should discipline itself if it wants to stave off disaster,” she said.
Kim Yo Jong, a senior official in the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, is in charge of relations with Seoul and Washington. South Korea’s spy service says she is the North’s No. 2 official behind her brother.
Pak Jong Chon, a secretary in the Workers’ Party’s central committee, separately warned that “any slight misjudgment and ill statement rattling the other party under the present situation” may trigger “a dangerous conflict and a full-blown war.”
Pak said North Korea will “mercilessly direct military force into destroying major targets in Seoul and the South Korean army” if South Korea preemptively attacks North Korea.
Relations between the Koreas briefly flourished in 2018 after North Korea abruptly reached out to South Korea and the United States and expressed its willingness to put its nuclear program on the bargaining table. At the time, Kim Yo Jong visited South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics and conveyed her brother’s invitation for Moon to visit the North. Kim Jong Un and Moon eventually met three times in 2018.
But North Korea turned a colder shoulder on Moon and cut off ties with South Korea after its broader diplomacy with the United States collapsed in 2019 due to disputes over US-led economic sanctions on the North.
“Kim Yo Jong’s remarks foreshadow another significant military test,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Similar to how Moscow and Beijing try to gaslight the world that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is somehow the fault of NATO, Pyongyang will blame its nuclear and missile advancements on the US-South Korea alliance.”
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said the back-to-back North Korean statements indicate that it will take hard-line steps toward South Korea. He said Pyongyang is sensitive to Seoul’s preemptive attack capability because it lacks military assets and capability to detect South Korean strikes in advance.
But Cheong added that Seoul’s public comments on preemptive strikes would only result in strengthening the voices of hard-line officials in Pyongyang and raising tensions between the Koreas.
Moon’s single five-year term ends in May, when he will be replaced by conservative Yoon Suk Yeol, who openly discussed the preemptive attack strategy on North Korea during his campaign. His liberal rivals criticized him for unnecessarily provoking North Korea, but Yoon said he would pursue a principled approach on Pyongyang.
The United States has urged North Korea to return to talks without preconditions, but the North has rejected such an overture saying the US must first drop its hostility toward it. Kim Jong Un has repeatedly vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal as a diplomatic stalemate with Washington continues.
Some experts say the North’s recent missile tests were meant to perfect its weapons technology, boost its leverage in future negotiations with the US and secure stronger internal loyalty. They say North Korea could soon conduct another ICBM launch, a launch of a satellite-carrying rocket or a test of a nuclear device in coming weeks.
KYIV: Ukraine admitted on Friday it was taking heavy losses in Russia’s assault in the east, but said Russia’s losses were even worse.
Having failed in an assault on Kyiv in the north of Ukraine last month, Russia is now trying to fully capture the two eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region.
Ukraine has acknowledged losing control of some towns and villages there since the assault began last week, but says Moscow’s gains have come at a massive cost to a Russian force already worn down from its earlier defeat near the capital.
“We have serious losses but the Russians’ losses are much, much bigger … they have colossal losses,” presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said. Western officials said Russia had been suffering fewer casualties after narrowing the scale of its invasion but numbers were still “quite high.”
Ukrainian officials said Russia was pounding the whole front line in Donetsk with rockets, artillery, mortar bombs and aircraft to prevent Ukrainian forces from regrouping.
However, the Russian offensive in Donbas appeared to be behind schedule.
“Due to strong Ukrainian resistance, Russian territorial gains have been limited and achieved at significant cost to Russian forces,” the British Defense Ministry said.
The bloodiest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe of the war have been in Mariupol, an eastern port reduced to a wasteland by two months of Russian bombardment and siege.
Ukraine says 100,000 civilians remain in the city, which is mostly occupied by Russia. Hundreds of civilians are holed up with the last remaining defenders in bunkers beneath a steel works.
KABUL: A powerful explosion killed more than 50 worshippers after Friday prayers at a Kabul mosque, its leader said, the latest in a series of attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The blast hit the Khalifa Sahib Mosque in the west of the capital in the early afternoon, said Besmullah Habib, deputy spokesman for the interior ministry, who said the official confirmed death toll was 10.
The attack came as worshippers at the Sunni mosque gathered after Friday prayers for a congregation known as Zikr — an act of religious remembrance practiced by some Muslims but seen as heretical by some hard-line Sunni groups.
Sayed Fazil Agha, the head of the mosque, said someone they believed was a suicide bomber joined them in the ceremony and detonated explosives.
“Black smoke rose and spread everywhere, dead bodies were everywhere,” he told Reuters, adding that his nephews were among the dead. “I myself survived, but lost my beloved ones.”
Resident Mohammad Sabir said he had seen wounded people being loaded into ambulances.
“The blast was very loud, I thought my eardrums were cracked,” he said.
A health source said hospitals had received 66 dead bodies and 78 wounded people so far.
The United States and the United Nations’ mission to Afghanistan condemned the attack, with the latter saying it was part of an uptick in violence in recent weeks targeting minorities and adding that at least two UN staff members and their families were in the mosque at the time of the attack.
“No words are strong enough to condemn this despicable act,” said Mette Knudsen, the UN secretary general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.
Emergency Hospital in downtown Kabul said it was treating 21 patients and two were dead on arrival. A worker at another hospital treating attack patients said it had received 49 patients and around five bodies. Ten of the patients were in critical condition, the source added, and almost 20 had been admitted to the burns unit.
A spokesman for the ruling Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, released a statement condemning the blast and saying the perpetrators would be found and punished.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible.
Scores of Afghan civilians have been killed in recent weeks in blasts, some of which have been claimed by Daesh.
Emergency Hospital said it had treated more than 100 patients wounded in attacks in Kabul in April alone. The latest attack came on the last Friday in the month of Ramadan in which most Muslims fast, and before the religious holiday of Eid next week.
The Taliban say they have secured the country since taking power in August and largely eliminated Daesh’s local offshoot, but international officials and analysts say the risk of resurgence in militancy remains.
Many of the attacks have targeted the Shiite minority, however Sunni mosques have also been attacked.
Bombs exploded aboard two passenger vans carrying Shiite Muslims in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Thursday, killing at least nine people. Last Friday, a blast tore through a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers in the city of Kunduz, killing 33.
MOSCOW: Russia does not consider itself to be at war with NATO over Ukraine since such a development would increase the risks of a nuclear war, RIA news agency cited Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday.
RIA also said Lavrov told Al Arabiya channel that Ukraine was at fault for stalled peace talks with Russia, blaming what he said was Kyiv’s changing negotiating positions.
More to follow…
NEW DELHI: The extreme heat that has battered India for weeks has affected 70 percent of the country, the weather department said on Friday, with scorching temperatures affecting the livelihoods of millions in the region.
Heat waves are common in India, especially in May and June, but the increase in temperatures started earlier this year. Last month was the hottest March that the country has experienced in decades, with heat waves sweeping the Indian subcontinent for weeks.
The World Meteorological Organization warned earlier this week that extreme heat driven by climate change in India and Pakistan was affecting the health of millions of people, animals and crops.
“Seventy percent of India and 30 percent of Pakistan are affected by the severe heat wave,” Dr. R. K. Jenamani, senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department, told Arab News. “Compared to past temperatures in March, this year was the highest in the last 72 years. April has also been very extreme compared to the past and many stations recorded temperatures of 45 to 46 degrees Celsius — much higher than normal.”
The heat wave has affected power supplies in parts of the country. Authorities in the national capital region of Delhi, where the mercury level rose above 40 C, warned that a power crisis is imminent.
In the western state of Gujarat, the health secretary Manoj Aggarwal told media on Friday: “We have issued an advisory to hospitals to set up special wards for heat stroke and other heat-related diseases due to the rise in temperatures,”
Akshit Sangomla of the Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based think-tank, told Arab News that agriculture has already been affected by the heat in 16 of India’s 28 states.  
“Wheat crops in the northern state of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab have already suffered,” he said. “The heat wave caused the grain to shrivel.”
In cities, the heat is making it difficult for residents to go about their daily lives.
“It’s very tough to venture out on the street and fulfill professional commitments,” Rajat Sharma, a food delivery worker, said. “I have never experienced this kind of heat in April.”
While the Met forecast that the weather should improve next week, the current situation is unprecedented.
“Earlier, heat waves (affected smaller areas), like north India or east India, but this time the heat wave is covering large parts of the country simultaneously, and this is not normal at this time (of year),” G. P. Sharma, the main weather forecaster at Noida-based Skymet Weather Services, told Arab News. 
“This might turn out to be one of the hottest Aprils on record.” 
WASHINGTON: A US judge on Friday imposed a lifetime prison sentence on a member of a Daesh militant group nicknamed “The Beatles” that beheaded American hostages, at a hearing where one victim’s mother told the defendant, “I will not hate you.”
US District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia, held an emotionally charged sentencing hearing for London-born Alexanda Kotey, 38, who pleaded guilty to murdering US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Hostages held by Kotey and his fellow militants nicknamed them “The Beatles” for their British accents. The hearing included testimony from victims’ relatives.
Family members described the dread of knowing loved ones were in captivity, and the grief they felt in the aftermath of their deaths.
“I will not hate you,” Kassig’s mother, Paula Kassig, said to Kotey during the hearing. “It would give sadness, pain and bitterness too much power over me. I choose to let my heart be broken open, not broken apart.”
Kotey’s lawyer said during the court hearing that, in an effort to “make amends,” Kotey is meeting with some family members of victims.
Ellis agreed to keep Kotey detained in Alexandria until July and said that arrangement would facilitate those meetings.
Kotey was a citizen of the United Kingdom, but the British government withdrew his citizenship. His Daesh cell took journalists and aid workers hostage, tortured them and circulated videotapes of gruesome beheadings on the Internet.
Kotey admitted to inflicting torture on hostages, including waterboarding and electric shocks with a stun gun.
Kotey’s lawyers had asked the judge to make a recommendation that Kotey not be sent to Supermax prison in Colorado known as ADX Florence, home to some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, including the Mexican drug kingpin, El Chapo.
Ellis declined to make any recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons about where Kotey will eventually be sent. That means Kotey is likely heading to ADX Florence, but the federal Bureau of Prisons has yet to determine where to send Kotey.
US authorities had advised British officials that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty. As part of Kotey’s plea agreement, US authorities have also agreed to make their best efforts to transfer him to a prison in the United Kingdom after 15 years.


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