Small N. Korea quake likely natural, not nuclear test: Experts

A man watches a television news screen showing a map of the epicenter of an earthquake in North Korea, at a railway station in Seoul on Saturday. China's seismic service CENC on September 23 detected a zero-depth, 3.4-magnitude earthquake in North Korea, calling it a "suspected explosion". (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2017
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Small N. Korea quake likely natural, not nuclear test: Experts

NEW YORK/SEOUL: A small earthquake near North Korea’s nuclear test site on Saturday was probably not man-made, the nuclear proliferation watchdog and a South Korean official said, easing fears Pyongyang had exploded another nuclear bomb just weeks after its last one.
China’s Earthquake Administration said the quake was not a nuclear explosion and had the characteristics of a natural tremor. The administration had said earlier the magnitude 3.4 quake detected at 08:29 GMT was a “suspected explosion.”
The CTBTO, or Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which monitors nuclear tests, and officials of the South Korean meteorological agency said they believed it was a natural quake.
The Pentagon and the US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment
A US intelligence official and US-based non-governmental experts said their initial assessment was that the quake was either natural or connected to North Korea’s latest and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3, and not caused by a new nuclear test.
“It seems likely that these small tremors are related to the shifts in the ground due to the recent large test,” said David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US.
The seismic activity came just hours before North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, who warned on Thursday that North Korea could consider a hydrogen bomb test of an unprecedented scale over the Pacific, was due to address the UN General Assembly in New York.
Ri did not respond when asked by reporters whether North Korea had conducted a new nuclear test.
A US government intelligence analyst said the events could have been a “mine-type” collapse of tunnels damaged by North Korea’s previous nuclear test, but was more likely a small earthquake.
An official of South Korea’s Meteorological Agency said acoustic waves should be detected in the event of a man-made earthquake.
“In this case we saw none. So as of now, we are categorizing this as a natural earthquake.”
The earthquake, which South Korea’s Meteorological Agency put at magnitude 3, was detected 49 km from Kilju in North Hamgyong Province, where North Korea’s known Punggye-ri nuclear site is located, the official said.
All of North Korea’s six nuclear tests registered as earthquakes of magnitude 4.3 or above. The last test registered as a 6.3 magnitude quake.
A secondary tremor detected after that test could have been caused by the collapse of a tunnel at the mountainous site, experts said at the time. Satellite photos of the area after the Sept. 3 quake showed numerous landslides apparently caused by the massive blast, which North Korea said was an advanced hydrogen bomb.
The head of the international nuclear test monitoring agency CTBTO said on Saturday that analysts were “looking at unusual seismic activity of a much smaller magnitude” than the Sept. 3 test in North Korea.
“Two #Seismic Events! 0829UTC & much smaller @ 0443UTC unlikely Man-made! Similar to “collapse” event 8.5 mins after DPRK6! Analysis ongoing,” CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said in a Twitter post, referring to the Sept. 3 test.
Russia’s Emergency Ministry says background radiation in nearby Vladivostok was within the natural range.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said it could not conclusively confirm whether the quake, which it measured at magnitude 3.5, was man-made or natural.
“The depth is poorly constrained and has been held to 5 km by the seismologist,” USGS said.
Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies at Monterey, California, said: “Seismologists are very good at discriminating between earthquakes and explosions. I see no reason to doubt that it was an earthquake.”
There was no immediate reaction from China’s Foreign Ministry, but the news was widely reported by Chinese state media outlets and on social media.
Tensions have continued to rise around the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear test, prompting a new round of UN sanctions.
US President Donald Trump called the North Korean leader a “madman” on Friday, a day after Kim dubbed him a “mentally deranged US dotard” who would face the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”
Kim was responding to a speech by Trump at the UN General Assembly in which Trump said the US would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the US or its allies.
On Thursday, Trump announced new US sanctions that he said allows the targeting of companies and institutions that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea.
Earlier on Saturday, China said it will limit exports of refined petroleum products from Oct. 1 and ban exports of condensates and liquefied natural gas immediately to comply with the latest UN sanctions. It will also ban imports of textiles from North Korea.
North Korea’s nuclear tests to date have all been underground, and experts say an atmospheric test, which would be the first since one by China in 1980, would be proof of the success of its weapons program.
North Korea has launched dozens of missiles this year, several of them flying over Japan, as it accelerates a weapons program aimed at enabling it to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.


Consultations underway to choose new TTP chief

Updated 18 June 2018
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Consultations underway to choose new TTP chief

  • Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan lost its chief Mullah Fazlullah along with four guards last week when a US drone fired on his vehicle after he attended an 'iftar' party
  • Members of the TTP "shoura" have been involved in consultations since the death of Fazlullah to name a new commander

ISLAMABAD: Senior Pakistani Taliban leaders have been in hectic consultations over the past few days to appoint their new chief after a US spy aircraft killed the group’s chief, Mullah Fazlullah, in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province, locals and journalists told Arab News.
Fazlullah was killed along with his four guards on June 13 when a drone fired missiles on his vehicle shortly after he attended an “iftar” party at the center of the Taliban militants from Swat valley based in Kunar’s Marora district.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed the death of Fazlullah, who had led a violent campaign against security forces in Swat until 2009, and later appeared in Afghanistan, where he had regrouped his fighters. The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, however, has not yet confirmed the leader’s death.
A senior journalist from Waziristan, who extensively reports on the Pakistani Taliban, has confirmed that the Taliban are involved in consultations to appoint a new leader.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, an expert on Taliban affairs who writes for international media, said on Monday the Taliban leaders are delaying the announcement of Fazlullah’s death before the appointment of his successor to avoid any internal rift.
“Huge divisions surfaced following the death of previous TTP leader Ameer Hakimulllah Mehsud in a US drone strike. The rift resulted in the killing of dozens of Taliban from the Sajna and Sheharyar Mehsud factions,” Tipu told Arab News.
Hakimullah was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on Nov. 1, 2013. Taliban militants from the Mehsud factions involved in fighting after Hakimullah’s death and infighting had reportedly claimed lives of nearly 200 people from both sides.
Members of the TTP "shoura" have been involved in consultations since the death of Fazlullah to name a new commander but have not yet reached a consensus on who should lead the group.
“Discussions have been held about three candidates — Omar Rehman, known as Ustad Fateh (Swat), Sheikh Khalid Haqqani (Swabi) and Zahid Qari (Bajaur),” another source close to the Taliban told Arab News.
Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, alias Abu Asim, the TTP deputy chief and Mohammed Azeem, alias Maulvi Khatir, who heads the Mehsud faction of the Taliban, are also among the possible candidates. Both are from South Waziristan.
Earlier it was reported that the TTP’s "shoura" elected Fateh, a close confidant of Fazlullah, as their new chief.
A senior journalist in South Waziristan, Ishtiaq Mehsud, disagreed with the reports about the appointment of Ustad Fateh as the TTP new leader and insisted that consultations were still underway.
Ishtiaq said that the delay to name the new chief was not because of TTP’s differences but because the commanders faced difficulties in contacting each other as they live in different areas.
“There are no differences in the TTP’s ranks and according to my information the majority of the commanders are in favor of Mufti Noor Wali to lead the group,” Ishtiaq told Arab News.
Wali, author of “Inquilab Mehsud,” was appointed deputy TTP chief after a US drone killed Khan Said Sajna in February this year. He previously headed the powerful Mehsud Taliban.
Mohammed Khorasani, the TTP spokesman, did not reply to several emails from Arab News about the death and the consultation process to name the new chief.