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N. Korea blasts US for sanctions over Sony attack

Published:Monday | January 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM


North Korea yesterday criticised the United States for slapping sanctions on Pyongyang officials and organisations for a cyberattack on Sony Pictures - the latest fallout from a Hollywood movie depicting the fictional assassination of North Korea's leader.

An unnamed spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry, in rhetoric that closely mirrors past statements, denied any role in the breach of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files and accused the United States of "groundlessly" stirring up hostility towards Pyongyang. The spokesman said the new sanctions would not weaken the country's 1.2-million-strong military.

The spokesman told the North's official media mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, that the sanctions show America's "inveterate repugnancy and hostility towards the DPRK", referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The policy persistently pursued by the US to stifle the DPRK, groundlessly stirring up bad blood towards it, would only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country," the spokesman said.

The US on Friday sanctioned 10 North Korean government officials and three organisations, including Pyongyang's primary intelligence agency and state-run arms dealer, in what the White House described as an opening move in the response toward the Sony cyberattack.

The sanctions might have only a limited effect, as North Korea already is under tough US and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

President Barack Obama also warned Pyongyang that the US was considering whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which could jeopardise aid to the country on a global scale.

American officials portrayed the sanctions as a swift, decisive response to North Korean behaviour that they said had gone far over the line. Never before has the US imposed sanctions on another nation in direct retaliation for a cyberattack on an American company.

There have been doubts in the cyber community, however, about the extent of North Korea's involvement. Many experts have said it's possible that hackers or even Sony insiders could be the culprits, and questioned how the FBI can point the finger so conclusively.

Nothing to do with it

The 10 North Koreans singled out for sanctions didn't necessarily have anything to do with the attack on Sony, senior US officials said. Anyone who works for or helps North Korea's government is now fair game, especially North Korea's defence sector and spying operations, they said.

North Korea has expressed fury over The Interview, an anti-Pyongyang Sony comedy. It has denied hacking Sony but called the act a "righteous deed".

Sony initially decided to call off the film's release after movie theatres decided not to show the film. After Obama criticised that decision, Sony released the movie in limited theatres and online.

Questions remain about who was behind a nearly 10-hour recent shutdown of North Korean websites. The United States never said whether it was responsible, but North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission blamed the US and hurled racial slurs at Obama, calling him a reckless "monkey in a tropical forest".

Such hateful comments are not new. Pyongyang has similarly attacked other US officials and called South Korea's female president a prostitute.