North Korea on Sunday claimed U.S. authorities had “literally mugged” members of its delegation at Kennedy Airport — ripping the United States as a “felonious and lawless gangster state.”
American officials “forcibly took away a diplomatic package from the delegation by an illegal and heinous act of provocation” on Friday, the dictatorship’s foreign ministry spokesman alleged to the state-run KCNA news agency.
As the North tells it, more than 20 U.S. officials “made a violent assault like gangsters” on North Korean diplomats heading home from a UN conference on the rights of people with disabilities.
“As the diplomats vigorously resisted, they grabbed the diplomatic package using physical violence and made off,” the foreign ministry spokesman said.
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Homeland Security disputed the account.
“According to the U.S. State Department, the North Korean citizens were not accredited members of North Korea’s Mission to the UN and had no entitlement to diplomatic immunity,” Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said. “The package in question had no diplomatic protection from inspection.
“DHS seized multiple media items and packages from the individuals, at which time the North Koreans attempted to physically retrieve the items but were prevented from doing so by DHS officers,” Lapan said. “The reported aggression was initiated by the North Koreans.”
The travelers were released but refused to board their plane without their seized items, he said.
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In light of the alleged incident, the North urged the international community to rethink whether New York was “fit to serve as the venue for international meetings.”
The alleged incident is a “graphic account” illustrating the United States’ “reckless and despicable” policy toward the North, the country added.
The isolated country’s claims came days after University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier — who’d been detained in North Korea on suspicion of theft last year and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor — was returned stateside in a mysterious coma.
The 22-year-old remains in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” after suffering severe brain damage, doctors said Friday, adding they were still unsure of the cause.
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“I’m so proud of Otto, my son, who has been in a pariah regime for the last 18 months, brutalized and terrorized,” his father, Fred Warmbier, said in a news conference. “And he’s now home with his family.”
Tensions and combative rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea have ratcheted up since President Trump took office in January.
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