Los Angeles: Hackers invoked the 9/11 attacks Tuesday in their most chilling threat yet against Sony Pictures, warning cinema-goers not to see a film which has angered North Korea.
The threat -- which was downplayed by US authorities -- came as lawyers filed a class action suit against the embattled studio, claiming it had failed to protect employees` data, stolen in a massive cyber-attack three weeks ago.
In a new statement cited by US media, the so-called GOP (Guardians of Peace) hacking group announced the start of a "Christmas gift," including leaked emails from Sony boss Michael Lynton.
Specifically, it warned movie-goers against seeing "The Interview," the Sony comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Pyongyang has denied being behind the threats and hacking -- but has praised it.
"We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places `The Interview` be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to," the latest statement said, again in broken English, just like previous threats.
"Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear," added the statement, cited by the Los Angeles Times and The Wrap among others.
And it warned: "Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you`d better leave.)
"Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the SONY."The US State Department played down the threat.
"There is no credible intelligence backing this up at this point in time," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN.
She added: "It is a comedy that I think Americans may go see over Christmas. They will make that choice.
"It obviously doesn`t represent the views of the United States. It is not a documentary about our relationship, so honestly, I think it is not a movie or a an issue that we`re taking a position on."
The threat came a day after Sony Pictures boss Lynton sought to reassure employees at a staff meeting, vowing the studio will not be destroyed by the leaks. A day before that hackers promised a big "Christmas gift."
"This will not take us down," Lynton told employees, adding: "You should not be worried about the future of this studio."
The hackers have demanded that Sony stop the release due on December 25 -- Christmas Day -- of the comedy "The Interview."
The movie was originally due out in October. Speculation has grown that its release could be delayed again, although Sony has made no comment or suggestion that it could give in to the hackers` demands.
North Korea has denied involvement in the brazen November 24 cyber-attack, but praised it as a "righteous deed" potentially orchestrated by supporters furious over the movie.
Meanwhile, lawyers said they have filed a class action suit against Sony Pictures.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, alleges that "Sony failed to secure and protect its computer systems, servers, and databases, resulting in the release of the named plaintiffs and other class members`" personal data.
"An epic nightmare, much better suited to a cinematic thriller than to real life, is unfolding in slow motion for Sony`s current and former employees," said the 45-page lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed by two former Sony employees on behalf of others, said Seattle-based lawyers Keller-Rohrback, who provided AFP with a copy of the suit.
"Because of Sony`s failure to protect its current and former employees` private information, that information is now circulating online, putting those employees at risk," it said.