US Marine vet faces extradition to Spain for role in helping N. Korean defectors


A former U.S. Marine is facing criminal charges and extradition to Spain for his role in ransacking the North Korean Embassy in Madrid in 2019 to help free defectors.

Key points:

  • Christopher Ahn’s involvement in the raid led to his arrest in the U.S., where he spent 87 days in jail before being released on bail.

  • North Korea previously criticized the U.S. for not extraditing Ahn, accusing Washington of protecting terrorism.

  • If extradited to Spain, Ahn could be a high-priority target for assassination by North Korea, according to an expert.

The details:

  • In February 2019, Ahn, as part of a group called Cheollima Civil Defense — also known as Free Joseon — entered the North Korean Embassy in Madrid and faked a kidnapping. They tied up staff members and herded them into a room.

  • The group has been involved in high-profile rescue missions, such as that of Kim Han-sol, the nephew of Kim Jong-un, in 2017.

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  • In a new interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” Ahn said he was told that the embassy staff had asked for help in defecting. They purportedly staged the raid to protect the workers’ family and friends from possible retaliation in North Korea.

  • The mission was aborted when Spanish police arrived. Ahn escaped to the U.S., where the FBI informed that North Korea had targeted him.

  • Ahn, however, was arrested in April 2019 after visiting Cheollima Civil Defense founder Adrian Hong, who, on the other hand, remains at large. Ahn spent 87 days at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center before being released on a $1.3 million bail.

  • At present, Ahn is fighting extradition to Spain, which charged him with breaking and entering, illegal restraint and causing injuries. However, Sung-Yoon Lee, a scholar and North Korea expert who has testified for Ahn, told "60 Minutes" that the latter could be targeted by North Korean assassins if sent there.

  • North Korea, for its part, has demanded severe punishment for Ahn and others involved in the raid. In 2023, Pyongyang called the incident a “grave breach of sovereignty and terrorist attack” and accused the U.S. of “protecting and encouraging acts of terrorism,” as per Reuters.

What’s next:

  • Ahn’s future is uncertain. His lawyer, Naeun Rim, said both President Joe Biden and State Secretary Antony Blinken have the power to block his extradition but noted that the State Department historically does not block such requests.


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