North Korea’s army chief of staff, Gen. Ri Yong Gil, was allegedly executed on charges of corruption. Systematic purges of top-ranking officials have become common practice under the regime of leader Kim Jong Un.
Events that happen inside of the isolated country are difficult to verify, but several sources in South Korean media confirmed the execution took place in early February, BBC reports.
Gen. Ri was the highest ranking military official in North Korea. In 2015, rumors began that he had allegedly fallen out of Kim’s favor. He was replaced by Gen. Ri Myong Su, in the fourth shake up in the chief of staff position in the current regime.
Ri was executed on charges of corruption and conspiracy, although there are no details of what he had actually done to cross Kim.
This is the highest profile execution of a North Korean official since 2013, when Kim tried and executed his own uncle, Chang Song Thaek. He had been considered the second most powerful person in North Korea during the rule of Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il.
There had been rumors that Chang was eaten alive by dogs, which turned out to be untrue. The North Korean regime is renowned for its brutality, even to insiders.
In May 2015, North Korea’s Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol was executed by an anti-aircraft gun with an audience in attendance. He had been accused of disloyalty to Kim.
Ri’s execution occurred during a time of North Korean aggression on the world stage.
On Feb. 9, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea was expanding its nuclear weapons program, The New York Times reports.
“Pyongyang continues to produce fissile material and develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile,” Clapper said. “It is also committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that’s capable of posing a direct threat to the United States, although the system has not been flight-tested.”
North Korea outraged the international community by launching a satellite into space on Feb. 7, indicating that it has long-range missile capabilities. According to the Obama administration, North Korea has replaced Iran as the biggest nuclear global threat.
The U.S. Senate pledged to impose sanctions on North Korea to strangle its funds to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, ABC News reports.