More details are surfacing in the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who was killed earlier this week in Malaysia.
South Korea on Wednesday confirmed the victim was indeed the North Korean leader’s older half brother, who was once in line to become head of state, but fell out of favor with their father, Kim Jong Il, after he tried to enter Japan on a forged passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland in 2001.
“It seems assured that the person who was killed was Kim Jong Nam,” said Jeong Joon-hee, the South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman.
The Malaysian police report issued on Tuesday night confirmed a 46-year-old North Korean man, who was traveling with a passport under the name of Kim Chol, died en route to a hospital after seeking medical help in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. His travel destination on Tuesday was Macau, where he had been living, said the Malaysian police.
On Tuesday unnamed U.S. government sources said the U.S. strongly believes that Kim Jong Nam was murdered by North Korean agents.
The South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) on Wednesday confirmed that Kim Jong Nam was poisoned by two suspected North Korean female agents, using toxic tipped needles, or sprayed with an unidentified liquid in his face, or with a chemically treated cloth.The unidentified assailants then reportedly fled in a taxi and are currently at large.
Malaysian police investigating the attack said the cause of Kim’s death was not yet known and a post-mortem would soon be carried out. His body was taken on Wednesday morning to a second hospital, where an autopsy was being performed. North Korean embassy officials were also on scene at the hospital and were coordinating with local authorities, police sources said.
There is widespread speculation that Kim Jong Nam’s death was ordered by high ranking officials in Pyongyang, and very likely by Kim Jong Un himself.
“If it is proved that Kim Jong Nam’s death was committed by the North Korean government, it will be a case that shows the brutality and inhumanity of the Kim Jong Un regime,” said South Korean acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.
Kim Jong Nam was reportedly considered a threat to his brother’s rule because of his outspoken criticism of the continued repressive and authoritarian practices within the country, because he was a proponent of reform polices that would loosen state controls, and because there was speculation that Chinese President Xi Jinping would prefer to see him replace his younger brother as the leader of North Korea.
South Korea’s spy agency said Wednesday that Kim Jong Un had issued a “standing order” for his half-brother’s assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012. Kim Jong Nam had been living under Beijing’s protection with his second wife in the Chinese territory of Macau.
North Korean defector and analyst Ahn Chan-il, with the World Institute for North Korean Studies, said it is likely that North Korean spies, embedded within the large number of laborers that work in Malaysia’s mineral and mining industry, had learned of the older Kim’s travel plans and decided to target him while he was outside of China’s protection.
“(I think) North Korea may have put spies within these laborers. And while the two women are suspected to be members of (the North’s) reconnaissance bureau, it is highly possible that more than ten people belonged to other bureaus that may be involved in this case,” said Ahn Chan-il.
The South Korean government on Wednesday also urged all North Korean defectors to take extra precautions for their own safety and security.
Reign of Terror
If proven, the sanctioned assassination of Kim Jong Un’s brother could further isolate a leadership in Pyongyang that is already struggling under harsh sanctions for its continued development of nuclear weapons and for widespread human rights violations.
South Korea’s Institute for National Security in December 2016 claimed that Kim Jong Un has ordered the execution of 340 people since he came to power in December 2011. In 2013, he sentenced to death his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, once considered his mentor and the country’s second-most-powerful man, for what the North alleged was treason.
For the next several days, North Korea will be marking the birthday of its late leader Kim Jong Il, the brothers’ father, though they have different mothers. The major holiday this Thursday is called the “Day of the Shining Star” and will feature figure skating and synchronized swimming exhibitions, fireworks and mass rallies.
Youmi Kim contributed to this report.