North Korea denounced U.S. President Barack Obama with a crude personal attack as it blamed the United States for intermittent Internet outages that have isolated Pyongyang during the past week, and recurred again on Saturday.
A statement issued with apparent top-level North Korean approval contended Obama was responsible for Sony Pictures' decision to release the film The Interview, which tells of a fictional plot by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea's 31-year-old head of state.
The North Korean statement, attributed to an unnamed member of the National Defense Commission, the country's highest ruling body, said: "Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds, like a monkey in a tropical forest."
A few hours after Saturday's statement was published by North Korea's official news agency, reports began coming in that North Korea's Internet access had been cut off again. Reporters for China's Xinhua news agency said Internet connections were unstable throughout the day, but all connectivity ceased as of 1930 (local time) Saturday.
A cybersecurity firm confirmed the Chinese report, which also said North Korea's (3G) mobile telephone network suffered a simultaneous failure.
Sony's computer network was attacked in November by hackers who published large amounts of personal information on the Internet. U.S. authorities said analysis of the hackers' software clearly pointed to North Korea as the source of the attack.
The huge entertainment company was proceeding on schedule for the film's December 25 release until its distributors began dropping out of commitments to show the film, following vague threats of violence posted by the hackers. Sony Pictures abruptly canceled the film's release about a week ago, then on December 24 reversed course and said it was releasing The Interview after all, to independent theaters and over the Internet.
The film, a farcical "action comedy," has drawn mediocre reviews at best, but the swirling controversy has made the movie an unlikely symbol of free-speech rights. It is now being shown in 320 theaters - only 10 percent of the number of screens originally expected - and Sony reported it took in over $1 million in box-office receipts on Thursday, its first full day available to the public. Additional revenue from online rentals and sales was not yet available.
President Obama criticized Sony's original decision to withhold the film, but the company did not say whether that prompted its subsequent decision to release the film. Challenged by reporters to say whether the U.S. would retaliate for the Sony Pictures hacking, Obama said there would be an appropriate response, but declined to say what that would be or when it might happen.
The film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen tells of a plot to kill the North Korean leader, devised by the CIA to be carried out by two journalists. The assassination plot is successful on-screen, with graphic images of dictator Kim's demise.
North Korea denies hacking Sony Pictures' computer network, but it has said the computer attack was "a righteous deed" by North Korea's "supporters and sympathizers."
North Korea has relatively few connections to the Internet available to civilians, but the entire country lost Internet access for at least nine hours in one incident during the week, and there have been a number of other intermittent outages.