North Korea fires missile over Japan after threat to 'sink islands into sea'
North Korea fired another missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido late last night, just a day after Pyongyang threatened that the four main Japanese islands "should be sunken into the sea" by its nuclear bomb.
This was the second time in less than three weeks that North Korea had sent a missile over Japan, and immediately sparked angry reactions in Tokyo and Seoul.
The missile was launched from the Sunan airfield just north of Pyongyang at about 6.30am local time (9.30pm GMT), South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said. It flew for 17 minutes, passing over Hokkaido and landing some 2,000km to the east, crashing into the Pacific Ocean.
The launch immediately triggered emergency alerts in Japan, with text messages and loud speakers telling residents on the missile's potential flight path to seek shelter.
The Japanese government warned people not to approach any debris or other suspicious-looking material, a reflection of that fact that North Korean missiles sometimes break up in flight.
The Japanese chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, condemned the latest launch and reiterated that Japan would "not tolerate" North Korea's actions.
Details are still emerging, but last night's launch appeared very similar to the last launch, on August 29.
North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 - an intermediate-range ballistic missile technically capable of flying 4,800km, enough to reach the US territory of Guam - from the Sunan airfield.
It flew to the east, over Hokkaido and into the Pacific Ocean, rather than on a southward path toward Guam.
But analysts said that, after testing its missiles by firing them straight up and having them crash into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan, North Korea was apparently testing its flight on a normal trajectory without crossing a "red line" of aiming at the United States.
That missile launch, followed by a huge nuclear test, triggered tough new sanctions from the United Nations Security Council.
On Wednesday a North Korean state agency had issued an alarming threat to Japan.
"The four islands of the [Japanese] archipelago should be sunken into the sea by [our] nuclear bomb," the Korea Asia-Pacific peace committee said in a statement carried by the official news agency.
Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan's four main islands.
"Japan is no longer needed to exist near us," the committee said.
Following last night's launch, South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, convened an emergency meeting of his national security council. (© Washington Post Syndication)