SEOUL, South Korea (HPD) — Air-raid sirens went off on a South Korean island Wednesday and people were evacuated to underground shelters after North Korea launched more than 20 missiles, including one in its direction that fell. on the tense maritime border between the two rivals. Seoul immediately responded by launching its own missiles at the same area.
The incidents came hours after Pyongyang threatened to use nuclear weapons to make the United States and South Korea “pay the most horrible price in history” in protest at ongoing joint military drills the North views as an invasion drill. The White House maintains that Washington has no hostile intent toward the nation and has promised to work with its allies to curb the secretive country’s nuclear ambitions.
The launch of the North Korean projectiles coincided with a moment when global attention is focused on the South after an avalanche during a Halloween celebration left more than 150 dead in Seoul over the weekend, the worst tragedy in the country in years.
According to the South Korean military, the North launched at least 23 missiles — 17 in the morning and six in the afternoon — from its eastern and western coasts on Wednesday, all of which were short-range ballistic or suspected surface-to-air missiles. In addition, it fired around 100 artillery shells towards the eastern maritime buffer zone created by the two nations in 2018 to reduce tensions, it added.
The number of missiles, 23, is a record in North Korea’s daily weapons tests in recent years, according to some experts.
One of the ballistic missiles flew toward the South Korean island of Ulleung before landing 167 kilometers (104 miles) to the northwest. The army later activated an air attack alert for the territory, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. South Korean media released footage showing residents moving into underground shelters.
The alert was deactivated hours later.
The missile fell 26 kilometers (16 miles) from the maritime border between the countries, in international waters off the South’s east coast. According to the South Korean military, it is the first time a projectile from Pyongyang has come so close to its maritime border since its separation in 1948.
“This is unprecedented and we will never tolerate it,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Later on Wednesday, fighter jets from the South launched three air-to-surface precision-guided missiles near the eastern sea border. According to the South Korean military, they fell into international waters at the same distance of 26 km north of the border line.
Hostilities on the Korean peninsula have escalated in recent months, with North Korea testing nuclear-capable missiles and Pyongyang passing a law authorizing the preemptive use of its nuclear weapons in a wide range of situations. Some experts remain doubtful that the North will be the first to use nuclear weapons against forces in Washington and Seoul.
In a statement early Wednesday, Pak Jong Chon, secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party and considered a close confidant of leader Kim Jong Un, called the “Storm Watch” aerial maneuvers in which they participated “aggressive and provocative.” some 240 warplanes from the two countries.
“If the United States and South Korea try to use their armed forces against (North Korea) without any fear, the special means of the (North) armed forces will carry out their strategic mission without delay,” Pak said, in an apparent reference to its nuclear arsenal.
“The United States and South Korea will have to face a terrible case and pay the most horrible price in history,” he said.
US and South Korean officials have reiterated that their exercises are defensive in nature and do not seek to attack the North.