North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has executed 70 officials since taking power in late 2011 in a "reign of terror" that far exceeds the bloodshed of his dictator father's early rule, South Korean officials said today. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, at a forum in Seoul, compared Kim Jong Un's alleged 70 executions with those of his late father, Kim Jong Il, who Yun said executed about 10 officials in his first years. An official from South Korea's National Intelligence Service confirmed that the spy agency believes the younger Kim has executed about 70 but wouldn't reveal how it obtained the information. Yun said Kim's "reign of terror affects significantly" North Koreans working overseas by inspiring them to defect to the South, but also didn't reveal how he got the details.
Information about North Korea's inner workings is often impossible to confirm, but high-level purges have a long history. To strengthen power, Kim Jong Un's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, removed pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions in the senior leadership in the years after the Korean War. Kim Jong Un has also removed key members of the old guard through a series of purges; The most spectacular to date was the 2013 execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. South Korea's spy agency told lawmakers in May that Kim ordered his then-defense chief Hyon Yong Chol executed with an anti-aircraft gun. Experts say Kim could be using fear to solidify his leadership, but those efforts could fail if he doesn't improve the country's shattered economy. (Read more Kim Jong Un stories.)