North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had his defence chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting presided over by Kim, South Korea claims.
South Korean analysts are split on whether the alleged bloody purge signals strength or weakness from Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father's 2011 death. The claims came from a presentation by South Korea's spy agency to MPs, citing what it called credible information.
One expert described the reported development, part of a series of high-profile recent purges and executions by Kim, as an attempt to orchestrate a "reign of terror" that would solidify his leadership.
National Intelligence Service officials told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that North Korean People's Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong Chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators at a shooting range at Pyongyang's Kang Kon Military Academy in late April, according to lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min.
Kim Gwang-lim, chairman of the South Korean parliament's intelligence committee, quoted the spy service as saying Hyon had also failed several times to comply with unspecified instructions by the North Korean leader.
Also said to be purged was Ma Won Chun, a lieutenant general and prominent architect who reportedly led a mega-project to build North Korea's Masik Pass ski resort. Ma had frequently accompanied Kim Jong Un on inspection tours, but was last mentioned in state media in November. He was earlier appointed to lead a new "Designing Department" within the National Defence Commission, North Korea's top governing body.
The South Korean intelligence agency didn't tell lawmakers how it got its information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true, the South Korean lawmakers said.
In Pyongyang, there were no announcements about any execution and no indications in tightly controlled state media about whether it was true or had taken place at all.
South Korea's spy agency has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.
The spy service faced widespread criticism when it failed to predict the North's artillery strikes on a South Korean island in 2010 because it ignored intercepted North Korean communications that indicated a possible attack.