North Korea launches suspected ICBM in first such test since 2017

Launch comes just over a week after Pyongyang test-fired a missile that appeared to explode shortly after liftoff.

People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test.
People watch a television showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on January 30, after North Korea fired a 'suspected ballistic missile' according to South Korea's military [Photo by Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

North Korea has fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) towards the sea off its east coast, South Korea and Japan’s militaries said, in what would be the first such test of the isolated state’s largest missiles in nearly five years.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Thursday it detected the launch of an “unidentified projectile” from North Korea. It said the launch was assumed to be a long-range missile, possibly an ICBM fired on a “lofted” trajectory. It added in a statement that “our military jointly fired missiles from ground, sea, air,” from 16:25 (7:25 GMT) in response to North Korea’s action.

Japan’s government also said the launch could be a ballistic missile.

The launch was a “breach of the suspension of intercontinental ballistic missile launches promised by Chairman Kim Jong Un to the international community,” South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said in a statement.

“It poses a serious threat to the Korean peninsula, the region and the international community,” Moon said.

The United States, meanwhile, called the launch “a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” that “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region”, according to a White House statement.

On March 16, North Korea launched a suspected missile that appeared to explode shortly after liftoff in the skies over Pyongyang, South Korea’s military said, amid reports that the nuclear-armed North was seeking to test-fire its largest missile yet.

The United States and South Korea have been warning that North Korea may be preparing to test-fire an ICBM at full range for the first time since 2017, possibly in the guise of launching a satellite.

US officials say at least two recent tests, on February  27 and March 5, featured North Korea’s largest ICBM system yet, the Hwasong-17.

‘Huge impact’

Kim Jong-ha, a security analyst at Hannam University in Daejeon, told Al Jazeera North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be aiming to send a message to president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who is expected to take a harder line against Pyongyang once he takes office in May.

“I think if the missile launch is an ICBM, it would have a huge impact on security affairs in Northeast Asia,” Kim said.

“If North Korea continues to provoke in this way, it [the Yoon administration] is expected to make a quick decision to acquire additional weapons systems such as the deployment of THAAD, although there will be friction with China,” Kim added, referring to the US anti-ballistic missile defence system.

After several recent launches, Pyongyang said it was testing components for a reconnaissance satellite system. Kim Jong Un said this month that North Korea would soon launch multiple satellites to monitor military movements by the US and its allies.

Thursday’s launch would be at least the 13th ballistic missile test-fired by North Korea this year, an unprecedented frequency that has drawn condemnation from the US, South Korea and Japan.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies