North Korea fires more missiles, including a possible ICBM, after record day of launches

North Korea fired multiple ballistic missiles on Thursday, including a possible failed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that triggered an alert for residents in parts of central and northern Japan to seek shelter.

Residents in northern Japan warned to seek shelter, but South Korean officials say ICBM failed in flight

An emergency alert is displayed on a screen in Japan, after a North Korean missile launch on Thursday. (Kyodo/Reuters)

North Korea fired multiple ballistic missiles on Thursday, including a possible failed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that triggered an alert for residents in parts of central and northern Japan to seek shelter.

Despite an initial government warning that the apparent ICBM had flown over Japan, triggering warning alarms for some residents, Tokyo later said that was incorrect.

The launches came a day after the North fired a daily record 23 missiles, including one that landed off the coast of South Korea for the first time, and drew swift condemnation from Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo.

Since Monday, South Korea and the United States have been conducting one of the largest air exercises ever, with hundreds of South Korean and U.S. warplanes, including F-35 fighters, staging around-the-clock simulated missions.

After Thursday's ICBM launch, the allies agreed to extend the drills past Friday, when they had been scheduled to end, South Korea's Air Force said in a statement.

"A strong combined defense posture of the ROK-U.S. alliance is necessary under the current security crisis that is escalating due to North Korean provocations," the statement said, using the initials of South Korea's official name.

WATCH | People in Japan react to sirens and warnings:

Japan shaken by warning sirens

3 months ago
Duration 1:10
'It's just scary,' says Niigata resident about a warning calling for people to seek shelter issued in parts of central and northern Japan on Thursday. It was triggered when North Korea launched multiple missiles, including a potential intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that failed.

Late on Thursday, Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Central Committee of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, said that the United States and South Korea had made a very dangerous decision by extending the drills, and were "shoving" the situation out of control.

"The United States and South Korea will find that they have made a terrible mistake that cannot be reversed," Pak said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA. He had previously issued statements demanding the drills be stopped.

The South Korean and U.S. stealth aircraft simulating attacks during drills are most likely what led North Korea to test a record number of missiles this week, experts say, but Pyongyang may also be turning up the heat before a potential nuclear test.

A news report using file footage conveys details, about what turned out to be multiple launches, is seen on a screen at a Seoul railway station on Thursday. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)

Officials in South Korea and Japan said the missile may have been an ICBM, which are North Korea's longest-range weapons, and are designed to carry a nuclear warhead to the other side of the planet.

North Korea also launched as many as five short-range ballistic missiles.

South Korean officials believe the ICBM failed in flight, Yonhap news agency reported, without elaborating. Spokespeople for the South Korean and Japanese ministries of defence declined to confirm the possible failure.

Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the government lost track of the missile over the Sea of Japan, prompting it to correct its announcement that it had flown over Japan.

Retired vice-admiral and former Japan Maritime Self Defence Force fleet commander Yoji Koda said the loss of radar tracking on the projectile pointed to a failed launch.

"It means at some point in the flight path there was some problem for the missile and it actually came apart," he said.

The United States condemned North Korea's ICBM launch, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. "This launch is a clear violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions," he said.

It also demonstrates the threat from North Korea's unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, Price added.

North Korea launched a record number of missiles in a single day on Wednesday — followed by Thursday's additional launches. (Kim Hong-ji/AFP/Getty Images)

Emergency warnings

South Korea issued rare air raid warnings and launched its own missiles in response after Wednesday's barrage. On Thursday, the South's transportation ministry announced that air routes had reopened in the area where the missile had fallen, having been closed for around 24 hours.

After the first launch on Thursday, residents of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures in Japan were warned to seek shelter indoors, according to the J-Alert Emergency Broadcasting System.

"We detected a launch that showed the potential to fly over Japan and therefore triggered the J Alert, but after checking the flight, we confirmed that it had not passed over Japan," Hamada told reporters.

The first missile flew to an altitude of about 2,000 kilometres and a range of 750 kilometres, he said. Such a flight pattern is called a "lofted trajectory," in which a missile is fired high into space to avoid flying over neighbouring countries.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the long-range missile was launched from near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

About an hour after the first launch, South Korea's military and the Japanese coast guard reported a second and third launch from North Korea. South Korea said both of those were short-range missiles fired from Kaechon, north of Pyongyang.

Regional reaction

South Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman strongly condemned North Korea's series of missile launches as "deplorable and immoral" during a phone call on Thursday, Seoul's foreign ministry said.

In brief comments to reporters a few minutes later, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, "North Korea's repeated missile launches are an outrage and absolutely cannot be forgiven."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Thursday at a regular news briefing avoided commenting directly on the missile launches or potential sanctions on North Korea, instead repeating the standard line from Beijing that it hoped all parties could peacefully resolve issues through dialogue.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his national security team were "assessing the situation," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement, which added the United States would take "all necessary measures" to ensure security.

After North Korea's launches on Wednesday, including one missile that landed less than 60 kilometres off South Korea's coast, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol described the flights as "territorial encroachment" and Washington denounced them as "reckless."

On Oct. 4, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, prompted a warning for residents there to take cover. It was the farthest North Korea had ever fired a missile.