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LA court denies bail to Madrid raid suspect

Apr 25,2019
A district court in the United States on Tuesday denied bail for a former U.S. marine under arrest for allegedly taking part in a dissident group’s raid on the North Korean embassy in Spain on Feb. 22.

Korean-American Christopher Philip Ahn, 38, attended a hearing at a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles after his arrest in California on Thursday by federal authorities under a provisional warrant from Spain. Ahn, according to the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors, is believed to be one of 10 assailants responsible for the brazen raid in Madrid belonging to a group called Free Joseon, which claims it will overthrow North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Court documents say investigators found a semi-automatic pistol containing rounds of live ammunition on Ahn’s person when they arrested him. The former U.S. marine is said to have been involved in the group’s harboring of the son of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half brother, after Kim Jong-nam was killed by assassins hired by North Korea in 2017.

Authorities in Madrid have requested that Ahn be extradited to Spain to face prosecution for a number of criminal counts including robbery and illegal restraint during the raid. A Spanish court described the raid in a report from last month as a meticulously planned attack that resulted in the assailants beating and interrogating embassy staff before making off with stolen computers, pen drives and other documents.

Ahn’s attorney, Callie Steele, made his case during his Tuesday hearing against his extradition to Spain, claiming he feared for his safety if the Spanish government handed him off to North Korean authorities. Citing the case of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who died after undergoing a yearlong imprisonment in North Korea in 2017, Steele said Ahn could also be executed in the North in a similar scenario if the United States relinquished its jurisdiction over him.

The presiding judge also denied Ahn’s request for bail, saying he poses a flight risk due to the “serious and violent nature” of his alleged actions.

In a separate probe, U.S. federal authorities last Friday raided the Los Angeles apartment of Adrian Hong, a Mexican citizen who has widely been identified as Free Joseon’s leader and the mastermind behind the raid. Hong apparently tried to hand over the items stolen by the group from the North Korean embassy to the FBI, claiming they contained important intelligence.

Hong was nowhere to be seen during the raid on his home. His lawyer, Lee Wolosky, told CNN on Monday that Hong was currently in hiding to evade North Korean hit squads, which he claimed had been dispatched to target Hong and other members of Free Joseon.

Calling Ahn “an American hero,” Wolosky added that it was “outrageous” that the U.S. government was executing warrants derived from criminal complaints by the North Korean regime, mirroring the statement he made on Free Joseon’s own website.

Wolosky further asked U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to intervene in the case by stopping the extradition process and letting “these men go back to serving their country […] and work toward a free and democratic North Korea.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]