North Korean defense minister Hyon Yong Chol made a mistake: he fell asleep at an official event at which Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un was present.

Kim, keen on sending a strong message amid rumors that his grip on absolute power may be slipping, reportedly decided that the appropriate punishment for napping during a rally is execution by anti-aircraft gun.

If true, this would mark the latest in a series of “purges” which seem to lend some credence to the notion that Kim’s family name is no longer sufficient when it comes to securing absolute power and universal admiration both from his inner circle and from North Koreans in general. At a more basic level, executing someone with a ZPU-4 pretty much ensures that nobody will ever be caught napping at official events ever again.

Since the story broke there have been a few competing accounts of what fate ultimately befell General Chol, but according to the Committee For Human Rights In North Korea, satellite images from last October confirm the defense minister might well have met his fate at the hands of four 14mm heavy machine guns normally used to shoot down helicopters.


While examining satellite imagery of an area near the North Korean capital city, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and AllSource Analysis, Inc. (ASA) may have come across evidence of a ghastly sight: the public execution of several individuals by anti-aircraft machine gun fire.

A military training area generally known as the Kanggon Military Training Area is located approximately 22 km north of the capital city Pyongyang (Pyongyang-si). Given the size, composition, and location of the training facility, it is likely used by both the students and staff of the elite Kanggon Military Academy (6 km to the southwest) and units from either the Pyongyang Defense Command or the Ministry of State Security. Encompassing approximately 12km2, the training area is composed of a number of dispersed small facilities. One of those facilities, located 1.5 km northeast of the small village of S?ngi-ri, is a small arms firing range (39. 13 48.64° N, 125. 45 29.03° E). This firing range is approximately 100 meters long by 60 meters wide and consists of 11 firing lanes. A range control/viewing gallery and parking area are located immediately south of the firing range. A small drainage ditch horizontally bisects the firing range. This firing range is typical of many ranges throughout North Korea and is designed for small arms training and maintaining proficiency for weapons ranging from pistols to light machine guns, and chambered for 7.62mm (the standard AK-47 rifle round) or less.

Sometime on or about October 7th, 2014, some very unusual activity was noted on satellite imagery of the Kanggon small arms firing range. Instead of troops occupying the firing positions on the range there was a battery of six ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns lined up between the firing positions and the range control/viewing gallery. The ZPU-4 is an anti-aircraft gun system consisting of four 14.5mm heavy machine guns (similar to a U.S. .50 caliber heavy machine gun) mounted on a towed wheeled chassis.

And would anyone in full possession of their faculties fire an anti-aircraft gun at this small arms firing range?

It is neither safe nor practical to use such weapons on a small arms range, as the combined weight of fire from the six ZPU-4 (a total of 24 heavy machine guns) would quickly destroy the downrange backstop and necessitate reconstruction.

A few meters behind the ZPU-4s there appears to be either a line of troops or equipment, while farther back are five trucks (of various sizes), one large trailer, and one bus. This suggests that senior officers or VIPs may have come to observe whatever activity was taking place. Most unusual in the image, perhaps, is what appears to be some sort of targets located only 30 meters downrange of the ZPU-4s.

In case you are still skeptical, here is why those “some sort of targets” were likely human beings who we assume committed “some sort of” treason in Kim’s estimation:

The satellite image appears to have been taken moments before an execution by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft machine guns. Busing in senior officers or VIPs to observe a ZPU-4 dry-fire training exercise at a small arms range amidst North Korea’s fuel shortages would make no sense. If the ZPU-4s were brought to the range solely to be sighted in, conducting this exercise at a 100 meter small arms firing range would be impractical. A live-fire exercise would be even more nonsensical. Rounds fired by a ZPU-4 have a range of 8,000 m and can reach a maximum altitude of 5,000 m. Positioning a battery of six ZPU-4s to fire horizontally at targets situated only 30 m downrange could have no conceivable utility from a military viewpoint. The most plausible explanation of the scene captured in the October 7th satellite image is a gruesome public execution.

Just out of morbid curiosity, how might an execution by anti-aircraft fire unfold?

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. The gut-wrenching viciousness of such an act would make “cruel and unusual punishment” sound like a gross understatement.

We’ll close be reiterating what we said earlier this week. Even if General Chol was indeed an unwilling participant in a recreation of the scene which HRNK claims played out last October at the Kanggon Military Training Area, it could have been worse. He could have merely had a visit from a lethal drone operated out of Nevada, and disappeared in an unsourced explosion, with the same effect. 

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