The motive for suspects’ airport escape still unclear

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The motive for suspects’ airport escape still unclear

The details regarding Monday’s apprehension of two Chinese nationals who broke through local security controls to flee Korea’s largest airport remained opaque Tuesday as authorities struggled to provide an exact explanation.

The Korea Immigration Service is currently looking into the case and said it would request a detention warrant for both suspects on charges that they violated the country’s Immigration Control Law.

The husband and wife team was arrested in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Seoul. Local authorities said they would investigate whether the two were planning to stay in Korea long term by earning money as illegal immigrants. It is unclear whether the suspects had a local broker.

They were apprehended Monday afternoon at a public market by officials from the Korea Immigration Service, just hours after Incheon International Airport announced that two Chinese nationals had broken through security systems and fled the airport on Thursday. The airport made the announcement four days after the pair went missing.

According to the airport, the suspects arrived at the airport at 7:31 p.m. on Jan. 20 from Honolulu and was scheduled to embark on a Beijing-bound flight the following day at 8:17 p.m. They were believed to have snuck out around 1:25 a.m. on Thursday via the third passenger terminal near the tax-free zone after customs authorities there had left work.

During that process, they walked through at least one unlocked automatic door, which led to a security checkpoint, and forced another locked door open using “mechanical tools,” including a screwdriver.

They exited through one of the airport’s six passenger terminals. Only one operates around the clock, while the rest are closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Investigators believe the two waited for customs officials to leave.

However, it also remains unclear how a security guard near the scene failed to notice the suspects trying to make their way out.

The airport claimed that the guard did see them, but did not bother to question their intentions, believing they were simply inspecting the facilities for maintenance.

The investigation by the Korea Immigration Service also appeared delayed. The organization requested CCTV footage from the airport a day after it was initially informed of the incident, and launched investigations at around 4 a.m. on Saturday.

The airport discovered that the couple had gone missing nearly 20 hours after they fled when they did not show up for their flight to Beijing on Thursday night. It claimed to have immediately alerted immigration officials upon finding out.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHOI MO-RAN and JANG HYUK-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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