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News of Soleimani killing spreads in North Korea’s capital

A public newspaper reading stand on the platform of a metro station in Pyongyang, North Korea (Roman Bansen/WikiCommons)
January 10, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

As news spreads in North Korea’s capital about the U.S. drone strike last weekend that killed Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani, citizens are surprised that North Korea’s media has been so quick to acknowledge the incident.

New modes of accessing news from outside the country have made it difficult for authorities to control what people are allowed to see, so sources say that the country’s coverage of the incident is a clean break from how similar events were reported in the past.

“[The news] is spreading fast among the people,” said a senior official from Pyongyang in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on Sunday.

“Pyongyang has a developed Internet network that’s connected to foreign embassies and foreign trade agencies, and there are many officials visiting foreign countries, so important outside news reaches [some of] the residents immediately,” the source said.

“[The assassination] is the hottest topic of the New Year for people living in Pyongyang,” said the source.

The source said the topic dominates public discourse, and even mandatory political education sessions are derailed by people wanting to talk about the drone attack.

“We have to attend educational sessions daily,” the source said, adding, “But people are not interested in the education session. They just want to learn about the Iranian general who was killed by the U.S.”

“[This] is a greater shock than when we heard about the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [in 2011],” the source said.

The source recalled that incident, noting that the government was quick to put its spin on it.

“When Gaddafi’s death resulted in the toppling of Libya’s autocratic regime, the Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] quickly organized lectures saying, ‘We are different from Libya. We will never surrender to the U.S. without first using nuclear and biochemical weapons,” the source said.

The source said that the drone-strike was reported in detail in a ‘reference newsletter,’ a secret document distributed to various high ranking officials who lead the government’s ministries.

“But most Pyongyangers already knew that [Soleimani] had been killed by the U.S. in a drone strike,” the source said.

A resident of Pyongyang told RFA that news articles about the attack appeared in North Korean newspapers on Monday.

“Today’s [state run] Rodong Shinmun [newspaper] reported that the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers condemned the U.S. attack on an airfield in Baghdad Iraq that killed an Iranian general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and an Iraqi paramilitary commander,” the second source said.

“It is very unusual that the Rodong Sinmun to quickly reveal that the Iranian general was killed in a U.S. attack,” said the second source.

“The authorities seem to have decided that it would be useless to hide facts that all Pyongyangers already know,” the second source said.

The second source also said that the people were surprised by the attack and that North Korea’s government might also be as well.

“The fact that Iran, a country that is more economically and militarily advanced, with an anti-aircraft defense system better than North Korea’s, was defenseless is a shock to most people here,” the second source said.

Although the leadership is clamoring for an all-out confrontation with the U.S., the recent death of Soleimani may have some implications for the supreme leadership.”