North Korea's state media have announced the execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, for attempting to overthrow the state.
The declaration comes just days after Jang, considered the country's second in command, was publicly ousted from power for alleged disloyalty and corruption.
South Korea says it is now closely watching for further signs of instability in the nuclear-armed North.
Trial, conviction for list of charges
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency early Friday reported a military tribunal overnight tried and executed Jang Song Thaek.
KCNA said Jang, the uncle of leader Kim Jong Un and assumed second in command, was found guilty of attempting to overthrow the state, party, and leadership.
The article, headlined, “Traitor Jang Song Thaek Executed,” said he committed “counter-revolutionary” acts. It called Jang “human scum” and “worse than a dog.”
Pyongyang's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed pictures of Jang standing at the military trial, bowing in submission with guards on both sides.
High level executions rare
Lee Yun-keol is president of the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center, a private research institution. He says the rapid execution demonstrates leader Kim Jong Un has not yet stabilized his grip on power.
He says there has never been a case where someone was executed after a special military trial held by North Korea’s state security department. He says that usually criminals are sent to political camps and receive harsh punishment until their death. He says Jang Song Thaek’s execution shows that Kim Jong Un’s regime has become relatively weaker than before and there are many forces supporting Jang’s power hidden inside North Korea.
Jang Song Thaek and his wife, Kim Kyong Hui, acted as mentors to Kim Jong Un when he became third generation ruler after his father Kim Jong Il's death in 2011.
KCNA claimed Jang plotted for years to take power from the Kim family and that his work began in earnest after Kim Jong Il's demise.
Jang was publicly ousted from power Sunday and stripped of all titles. He faced a laundry list of accusations including factionalism, ignoring orders, and selling off national resources on the cheap.
Political analysts say the 30-year-old North Korean leader saw Jang, more than twice his age, as a rival as he sought to secure sole control over the country.
Andrei Lankov is a professor of Korean history at Kookmin University. Interviewed by VOA via Skype, he says the publicity of the execution is likely intended to scare officials into obedience but it could also encourage rebellion.
“Under Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung they very seldom killed high level officials. Now they are not secure, they know it, and it means that if they face a threat, if somebody powerful enough is aware that he is going to be purged soon, he might seriously consider a coup or other kind of violent resistance to the regime,” Lankov said.
South Korea concerned
Jang's dramatic downfall raises alarm bells in Seoul as political change in North Korea is often accompanied by belligerent words or actions as a show of strength.
South Korea's office of the president on Friday held an urgent national security meeting to discuss the implications for stability on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea's military has been conducting winter drills this month.
South Korea's Defense Ministry spokesman Wi Yong-seob says they are closely monitoring the military for more aggressive movements.
He says it is possible that North Korea may conduct a fourth nuclear test or launch missiles but there is no special movement in the missile launch site or nuclear test site so far.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification is responsible for inter-Korean relations. Spokesman Kim Eui-do said the government was watching the events with concern.
He says the government is checking the internal situation in North Korea and considering various possibilities. He says they are watching North Korea's announcements and reactions and if there is any internal change from now on.
South Korea said it would work closely on the issue with allies and related governments.
The U.S. State Department said, if confirmed, the execution is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime.
VOA Seoul Bureau Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report