North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan in ‘unprecedented threat’

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan in a move Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat” to his country.

The missile was launched from Sunan near Pyongyang at around 5:58 am Japan time (2058 GMT) and flew about 2,700km (1,678 miles), reaching an altitude of about 550km (342 miles).

The early flight data from the launch suggested the missile was likely the KN17/Hwasong-12, a newly developed intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) that the North has recently threatened to fire toward the US Pacific territory of Guam.

The missile flew over Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido at around 6:06 am before breaking into three pieces and falling into the sea about 1,180 km to the east of Japan at around 6:12 Japan time.

The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting in response.

Today’s launch came days after the Pyongyang fired three short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) into the Sea of Japan and a month after its second flight test of the KN20/Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which analysts say has the capability to reach the US mainland.

North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under young leader Kim Jong-un, but firing projectiles over mainland Japan are rare. On the two previous occasions, its rockets crossed Japan – in 1998 and 2009 – North Korea said they were for satellite launch vehicles, not missiles.

Air raid warnings sounded in northern Japan as the missile approached, with people being warned to take shelter in basements. No effort was made by the Japanese to shoot down the missile but it issued a safety warning telling citizens in Hokkaido to take shelter in “a sturdy building or basement”.

The South Korean military said the missile was fired eastward just before 06:00 local time (21:00 GMT) from near the North’s capital, Pyongyang – which is rare.

Pentagon also confirmed the launch of the missile over Japan. “We can confirm that the missile launched by North Korea flew over Japan,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters.

Written with input from agencies

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