Otto Warmbier's mom pleads with judge to stop Biden WH extradition: 'North Korea will kill Chris'
Christopher Ahn is currently out on bail after a hearing Tuesday in Los Angeles.
A Los Angeles federal courtroom was riveted Tuesday as Cindy Warmbier, mother of Otto Warmbier, gave a heartfelt plea of support to protect the life of a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for being an activist against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Christopher Ahn faces extradition to Spain as a member of the group advocating freedom for North Korea. His supporters fear he could be killed by Kim Jong Un if the Biden administration continues to press a request by Spanish authorities to send him back to Madrid to face charges. No decision on his extradition was made, but lawyers have until June 4 to deliver added briefs to the judge.
"Our government failed us," Mrs. Warmbier told the court. "They told us to keep quiet. They told us Otto will be home soon. No one ever stands up to North Korea. Well, I am standing up to North Korea. I am standing up for Chris Ahn, a good man. North Korea will kill Chris if he’s extradited. Please stop this injustice."
"I just want to say one thing, how appreciative I am of all the supporters and of all the people who have been very supportive of me and have reached out to me and have believed in me," Ahn said after the hearing was over. "We all believe that truth, logic, common sense will make the day."
Ahn, currently out on bail, added that he prayed the judge would make "the right decision."
The former Marine's attorney, Naeun Rim, also issued a statement to Fox News.
"We walked out of the courtroom today with more hope than we could have imagined," Rim said. "The judge clearly understands the danger to Mr. Ahn and the weight of the responsibility on her shoulders. Mr. Ahn is a hero who is innocent of the North Korean allegations against him. I hope common sense and human decency will prevail and end this nightmare for Mr. Ahn and his family."
Mrs. Warmbier was joined in court by her husband, Fred. They had traveled from their home in Ohio to Los Angeles to attend the hearing and show their public support for Ahn. Their son Otto was a 22-year-old University of Virginia student in an educational program when he was falsely arrested by Kim’s regime, tortured and sent home to die in 2017.
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The Warmbiers have been outspoken critics of North Korea’s human rights record and see the Ahn case as part of that mission.
One of the witnesses who testified told Fox News that if Ahn is extradited, he will face certain death.
"Christopher Ahn is in danger of being assassinated in broad daylight for the world to see, to make the point that North Korea will indeed go to the ends of the earth to kill a priority target like Christopher Ahn," said Sung-Yoon Lee, a Kim Koo-Korea Foundation professor in Korean Studies and assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He testified in Ahn’s defense over the objections of federal prosecutors.
"Another possibility is Ahn could be abducted, taken to North Korea, tortured extensively and then executed in public," he told Fox News. "North Korea is a terrorist state with a global murderous reach, with vast resources for implementing, executing its assassination job against high-value targets like Christopher."
Ahn’s supporters demand the Department of Justice drop its extradition effort. He is charged in Spain with breaking into the North Korean Embassy in Madrid in 2019, part of what is claimed to have been an operation to help the North Korean ambassador to Spain escape and defect.
If the U.S. hands the former leatherneck over to Spanish authorities, "North Korea will go to the ends of the earth to find him, to harm him, to assassinate him," Lee said.
The federal judge in Ahn’s case seemed to agree that Ahn would be in danger if the Justice Department were to put him on a plane to Madrid.
"The FBI has confirmed that the North Korean government has threatened his life," U.S. Magistrate Jean Rosenbluth wrote in 2019. " ... He is apparently the target of a dictatorship's efforts to murder him."
Ahn, 39, who spent six years in the military and served in the Iraq war, was arrested in 2019 as a member of the group Free Joseon. The group, whose name means "Free North Korea," opposes the Kim regime and has helped several high-level North Koreans defect.
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Spanish authorities claim that Ahn and the small group of activists broke into the North Korean Embassy in Madrid before tying up and beating some of the diplomats. Those claims were the basis for Spain seeking the men's return. But Ahn’s supporters say the activists were invited into the building as part of an agreed-upon plan to help Kim’s ambassador flee. The activists say they spent hours inside with no problems.
Videos viewed by Fox News show the activists calmly walking into the embassy, and one sitting in an office having a quiet chat with a member of Kim's diplomatic corps. One unidentified activist takes the official photos of Kim Jong Un and his father, Kim Jong Il, from the wall and smashes the portraits on the floor.
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The operation was interrupted when Spanish police were alerted.
"The extradition papers from Spain confirm that almost the entire case against Mr. Ahn is based on uncorroborated statements made by high-ranking North Korean officials," Ahn's attorney, Naeun Rim, previously told Fox News. "The statements made by these officials are not credible. For example, they contain many inconsistencies as to who was allegedly tied up and how everyone supposedly got free. ... There are no medical records to corroborate the injuries the officials supposedly suffered. We plan to vigorously contest the extradition hearing and show that the case against Chris is not supported by competent evidence."
"This is the first-ever instance of the United States government executing an arrest warrant issued by another state, albeit a friendly ally, Spain, but a case that is almost entirely based on North Korean testimonies. What's wrong with that? Well, we know that the North Korean state lies for a living. It is a state founded on terror, both internal and external terror, but also a cult of personality," Lee said.
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When Ahn returned to the United States, his lawyers say he and his fellow activists gave the FBI computer thumb drives, computer discs and other sensitive material that they had taken from the North Korean offices.
But instead of being thanked by the Trump administration Department of Justice, they were charged and now Ahn faces extradition.
"He [Ahn] seemingly has more reason to fear assassination or other harm from North Korea should he be returned to Spain," the judge said.
The Justice Department did not provide a statement to Fox News about Ahn’s case or whether prosecutors would consider blocking Spain's extradition request.
Fox News' Ben Evansky contributed to this report.