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Prisoner escapes from North Korean detention center, shoots 4 officers

Jail cells (Dreamstime/TNS)
April 21, 2023

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

A North Korean prisoner escaped from a detention center after hitting a guard on the head with a hammer, then shot four police officers with a stolen handgun as he hid nearby in a warehouse and an apartment building, residents told Radio Free Asia. 

The incident, which ended with the prisoner killing himself, is an unusual account of a mass shooting crime in North Korea, and a rare glimpse into the country’s system of detention centers.

The prisoner had been helping the guard while they worked on an electricity repair project, according to a resident of Chongjin City in North Hamgyong province. After striking the guard with the hammer, the prisoner then stole his handgun and ran from the detention center.

Because last month’s incident took place on a Sunday, most guards were resting in their bedrooms, the source said. The guard who had been hit – the only one on duty that day – eventually regained consciousness and reported the escape, the resident said. 

“Immediately, the entire social security department and neighboring military units were mobilized for the operation to arrest the escaped prisoner,” she said.

The prisoner had been a military sniper at the Supreme Guard Command, a resident of North Hamgyong’s Orang County who was also familiar with the story, told RFA.

His older brother made a statement criticizing the system and was sent to a prison camp. The younger brother – the prisoner – was forcibly discharged from the military due to guilt-by-association, the second source said.

The younger brother became a vagrant, sometimes working unofficial jobs, and eventually committed a crime while he was unemployed. He was ordered sent to a labor camp, but was temporarily sent to the detention center while he underwent a preliminary investigation, the Orang County resident said.

Search operation

After escaping, he hid in the warehouse of an inn next to the social security department, the Chongjin City resident said. 

Still wearing his prison uniform, he waited for nightfall. But when two social security agents tried to search the warehouse, he shot them, the Chongjin City resident said. He then fled to the basement of an apartment building, where he shot two more social security agents. He then fatally shot himself.

Travel and vehicle traffic were completely restricted for local residents during the search operation, the Chongjin City resident said. 

“Residents have different opinions about the incident,” the Orang County resident said. “Most residents think he deserves to be punished given the nature of the crime.

“But acquaintances who know the family situation of the prisoner said that this would not have happened if he had not been forcibly discharged from the military.. The younger brother had nothing to do with the crime committed by the older brother.”