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US sanctions North Korea over Sony

The United States has imposed new sanctions on North Korea, targeting top state officials and defence-related organisations in an attempt at punishment for a crippling cyber attack against Sony.

The sanctions marked the first public act of retribution by the US.

Although it was unclear how punishing the blow would be, as North Korea is already under tough US sanctions for its nuclear programme, the announcement signalled that the US was not backing away from its insistence that North Korea is responsible for the attack against Sony.

North Korea has denied involvement and some cyber security experts say it is possible Pyongyang was not to blame.

"The order is not targeted at the people of North Korea, but rather is aimed at the government of North Korea and its activities that threaten the United States and others," President Barack Obama wrote in a letter to House of Representatives and Senate leaders.

The White House warned this was just the first part of the US response to the Sony incident.

The new sanctions, authorised by Mr Obama, will affect three North Korean entities that are already subject to some US sanctions, plus another 10 individuals who work for those entities or the North Korean government. These are the first US sanctions punishing Pyongyang for alleged cyber attacks.

The FBI has blamed North Korea for the cyber attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. North Korea has denied involvement but has expressed fury over a comedy film by Sony that mocked leader Kim Jong Un. Sony Pictures initially called off release of the film, The Interview, citing threats of terror attacks against US cinemas. Mr Obama criticised Sony's decision and the film opened last month.

A near 10-hour shutdown of North Korean websites last week prompted widespread speculation that the US had launched a counterattack in retribution, but the White House did not comment on whether the US was responsible. The US has vowed a proportional response to the Sony incident but warned its response would "take place at a time and in a manner of our choosing".

North Korea and the US are already in an international standoff over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and its alleged human rights abuses.

Among those sanctioned are organisations tied closely to North Korea's defence industry:

:: Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, the state-owned arms dealer and exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.

:: Korea Tangun Trading Corporation, which obtains technology to support North Korea's defence research.

:: Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea's primary intelligence organisation that runs the country's cyber warfare.

Mr Obama signed an executive order authorising the sanctions from Hawaii, where he is on holiday with his family.

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