UNITED NATIONS — A Korean-American protesting against the North Korean government emptied a seven-shot pistol in front of U.N. headquarters Thursday, hitting several offices but injuring no one, authorities said.
The gunman was identified as Steve Kim, a naturalized U.S. citizen working at a U.S. post office in Des Plaines, Ill. FBI spokesman Jim Margolin said Kim was born in 1945 and that agents were trying to confirm he was born in Korea.
The shooting occurred at 1:10 p.m. as the Security Council was meeting on Iraq and Secretary-General Kofi Annan was holding talks with the Cypriot leaders in his office on the 38th floor.U.S. Secret Service agents protecting visiting Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides apprehended Kim in the compound just outside the building.
“The first people to reach this individual were U.S. secret service personnel,” U.N. security chief Michael McCann said. The agents were assisted moments later by members of a State Department protective detail also on site as well as U.N. security.
Margolin, of the FBI, said Kim was expected to be arraigned in federal court in Manhattan for violation of the protection of foreign officials act although specific charges have yet to be determined. The protect act is a federal law that establishes protections for visiting dignitaries.
The shots, fired from a Smith & Wesson pistol, hit a women’s restroom on the 18th and an American Express office on the 20th floor of the U.N. Secretariat building. McCann said several shots narrowly missed U.N. employees inside the building.
Kim, wearing a blue shirt and brown pants, entered the U.N. compound by jumping over a poorly guarded fence surrounding U.N. headquarters. He walked up to the building, shot seven times in the air and then dropped the pistol on the ground, witnesses and security officials said.
He then tossed out a stack of leaflets from a small black bag before he put his hands up against a wall and awaited capture.
The leaflets, found by reporters near the scene, were handwritten in English with many misspellings and were addressed to “all people who love freedom and justice.”
“In a shining and civilized 21st century, most people in the world enjoying peace and freedom. North Korea however, is groaning under the weight of starvation and dictatorial suppression. They don’t have even the most basic of human rights since all things, body and spirit, plants and plows, belong to one named greatest general Kim Jong Il,” it said.
It was signed: “A citizen of U.N., Steve Kim, Oct. 2, 2002.”
President George W. Bush has accused North Korea of being part of an “axis of evil.” The communist country has been in an economic crisis since the collapse of its main benefactor, the Soviet Union, almost 11 years ago. The peak of the crisis occurred in 1996-97 when, according to some experts, as many as 2 million people starved to death.
Kim was questioned by U.S. law enforcement authorities before being transferred to FBI custody and taken out of U.N. headquarters 90 minutes after the shooting.
“He had a gun. He shot in the air. I heard about five to six shots, and then he dropped the gun,” said U.N. spokeswoman Hua Jiang, who witnessed the incident from the window of her fourth-floor office.
Michael Hovey, the executive director of The Hague Appeal for Peace, ran into the shooter as he was leaving the U.N. building. Hovey said he saw Kim empty the pistol.
“Then he just walked over to the wall, grabbed some papers, threw them in the air and then sat down. Within a minute the security guards surrounded him,” Hovey told The Associated Press.
The United Nations was conducting floor-to-floor searches for more bullets after the shooting.
New York City police temporarily sealed off First Avenue in front of the United Nations building and cleared the street of bystanders while the United Nations sealed off the sprawling U.N. complex, which houses the Security Council, U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s offices and the General Assembly.
McCann, the U.N. security chief, said security was supposed to have been beefed up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but his office has been slow in hiring new recruits.
The U.N. headquarters overlooking Manhattan’s East River was a terrorist target following the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. And in a videotaped address aired in November, Osama bin Laden accused the world body of siding with the United States and called Annan a “criminal.”