SEOUL — Suspected terrorists from al-Qaida and other groups have scouted targets in South Korea at least eight times in the past 10 years, South Korean officials said Wednesday.
Speaking during a National Assembly hearing, then repeating the comments later to reporters, a leading lawmaker said the most recent incident was a month-long stay in Seoul by an alleged high-level al-Qaida operative in 2001.
The comments, by Uri Party member Choi Sung, come amid heightened security levels for both South Korean and U.S. government and military agencies. South Korean officials have posted extra police and armored vehicles at possible targets, including Incheon International Airport and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
The U.S. military has continued a 9 p.m.- to-5 a.m. curfew, imposed Sept. 24 after the U.S. Embassy issued a strongly-worded warning about possible targeting by terrorists after South Korea’s recent troop dispatch to Iraq.
American officials warned that suicide attacks, bombing or kidnappings were possible in South Korea as retaliation for the troop dispatch.
Gate hours at several U.S. installations throughout the peninsula have been adjusted, newly installed force protection devices such as barriers are being put into use and military police are making random searches of vehicles entering the gates.
Choi listed a handful of other incidents in which suspected terrorists targeted or passed through South Korea. In 1995, al-Qaida’s former No. 3 leader — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, since captured — scouted airline security on flights from the Philippines to Seoul.
In 1999, an al-Qaida operative later blamed for a suicide attack in Tunisia reportedly came to South Korea to observe U.S. military bases and troops movements, Choi said, citing intelligence reports.
Another suspected al-Qaida operative lived in Seoul for one month in 2001, Choi said, citing intelligence provided by Japanese officials.