Satellite images suggest North Korea may execute people with anti-aircraft guns

The ZPU (Russian: зенитная пулемётная установка, meaning "anti-aircraft machine gun mount") is a family of towed anti-aircraft gun based on the Soviet 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine gun. It entered service with the Soviet Union in 1949 and is used by over 50 countries worldwide. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

North Korea is well known for their rumors of absurd executions. However, one of their most long-standing and cruel execution rumors may in fact be true. According to the Washington Post, recent satellite images suggest North Korea may be executing high-ranking officials with powerful weapons such as mortar rounds.

The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released images taken at a military training area north of the North Korea capital Pyongyang that appears to show individuals standing in front of anti-aircraft machine.


The authors of the HRNK’s report, Greg Scarlatoiu and Joseph Bermudez Jr., say the weapons appear to be “six ZPU-4s, Soviet-made heavy weaponry first used during the Korean war” positioned about 100 feet from the standing figures. Behind the guns there seems to be a line of troops and/or equipment. There are also buses and trucks, implying people had been brought to watch what was happening.

Although the ZPU-4 is a quad-barrelled machine gun as opposed to a mortar round, it has a similarly harmful effect on the human body. Back in 2013, South Korean officials suggested that North Korea was using antiaircraft guns to execute officials, but did not provide evidence to support their claim.

“The most plausible explanation of the scene captured in the October 7th satellite image is a gruesome public execution,” the authors state. “Anyone who has witnessed the damage one single U.S. .50 caliber round does to the human body will shudder just trying to imagine a battery of 24 heavy machine guns being fired at human beings. Bodies would be nearly pulverized.”

HRNK, a prominent group in the North Korea-watching community, is known for its bold investigations into North Korean atrocities. It is noted by numerous experts that one of the authors of the report, Joseph Bermudez Jr., is very well-respected in his field.

“It is remarkable that a passing satellite was able to capture this moment in time (what are the odds?),” Curtis Melvin, an expert in North Korean satellite imagery, said. “Without it, the deaths of these people would still be unknown to the outside world.”

It is still uncertain who the people were being executed in the images were or even if they were being executed. Experts believe that a public execution of that caliber would be used to further instill fear into the citizens.

“The demonstrative effect of the executions is as important as who was killed and for what reason,” Adam Cathcart, a North Korea expert at Leeds University in England, said. “The main thing is that fear as well as patriotic loyalty needs to be instilled into the ranks of the soldiers.”



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