Kim Jong Un's half-brother apparently assassinated in Malaysian airport

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un died after being attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport by a woman who covered his face with a liquid, Malaysian police said Tuesday in what appears to have been an assassination carried out by a North Korean agent.

Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told Bernama, a Malaysian news site, that the victim was Kim Jong Nam, who was at the airport to catch a flight to Macau, China, when he was attacked.

"While waiting for the flight, a woman came from behind and covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid," Fadzil said. "Following this, the man was seen struggling for help and managed to obtain the assistance of (an airport) receptionist as his eyes suffered burns as a result of the liquid. Moments later, he was sent to the Putrajaya Hospital, where he was confirmed dead.”

Kim Jong Nam, who was 46 according to a police report, was the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and was at one time considered the heir apparent to rule the isolated country, which has been governed by three generations of the Kim family.

In 2001, he was arrested at Tokyo’s Narita Airport after trying to enter Japan on a forged passport from the Dominican Republic. He told police he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

After falling out of favor with his father, Kim Jong Nam lived in exile in Macau, a Chinese island known as a gambling mecca. In emails to the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun, he said the rift had grown because he insisted on reforms. "After I went back to North Korea following my education in Switzerland, I grew further apart from my father because I insisted on reform and market-opening and was eventually viewed with suspicion,” he wrote.

Kim Jong Nam also criticized North Korea’s dynastic succession and that he had no interest in running the country, which remains in the iron grip of his 33-year-old half-brother. It was widely speculated that he lived in fear for his life under Kim Jong Un's harsh regime, and there have been reports of other assassination attempts in the past.

North and South Korean authorities did not immediately comment on reports. If confirmed, it would be the highest-profile North Korean death since Kim Jong Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was executed in December 2013.

Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said it is difficult to read anything into the timing of Monday's death, but that Kim Jong Nam had long been viewed as a potential threat by his half-brother.

“He was living overseas and was critical of the regime, and he was a potential figure around which any opposition could rally,” said Wit. “It’s pretty clear that if you’re an outspoken opponent of the North Korean regime who used to be part of the regime, that your life is in danger.”

(Photo: Jung Yeoh-Je, AFP/Getty Images)

North Korean leader's brother Kim Jong-nam killed at Malaysia airport

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam, has been killed in an attack in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian police say he was waiting at the airport for a flight to Macau on Monday when a woman covered his face with a cloth which burnt his eyes.

He was using a passport in a different name at the time.

The late Kim Jong-il's eldest son is thought to have fled North Korea after being passed over for the leadership.

What happened?

Kim Jong-nam was attacked at about 09:00 (01:00 GMT) on Monday while waiting at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a 10:00 flight to Macau, Malaysia's Star newspaper reports, quoting police.

How the attack actually unfolded is still unclear. Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told The Star that Mr Kim had alerted a receptionist, saying "someone had grabbed him from behind and splashed a liquid on his face".

But quoted by Malaysian news agency Bernama, the same official said a woman had come at him from behind and "covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid". Earlier reports spoke of a "spray" being used or a needle.

His eyes "suffered burns as a result of the liquid", Fadzil Ahmat told Bernama, and he died on the way to hospital in nearby Putrajaya.

"So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are looking at a few possibilities to get leads," Fadzil Ahmat told Reuters news agency separately.

News of Mr Kim's death was not reported until Tuesday. An autopsy was conducted on his body but the results have not yet been released.

Why the delay in identifying him?

South Korean media named the victim early on Tuesday but the Malaysian authorities initially only reported the sudden death of an unnamed North Korean national who had fallen ill at the airport.

Police then released a statement which quoted the victim's travel document identifying him as "Kim Chol", born on 10 June 1970.

Kim Jong-nam was born on 10 May 1971.

Police finally confirmed that the victim was indeed the half-brother of North Korea's leader.

It was not the first time Mr Kim had travelled under an assumed identity: he was caught trying to enter Japan using a false passport in 2001. He told officials he had been planning to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Why was he flying to China?

Bypassed in favour of his youngest half-brother for succession when their father died in 2011, Kim Jong-nam kept a low profile, spending most of his time overseas in Macau, mainland China and Singapore.

He is said to have enjoyed the slot machines in Macau, a Chinese territory famous for gambling.

How did he fall out of favour?

The Tokyo Disneyland incident is thought to have spoilt his chances of succeeding Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.

Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea's Kim Jong-un, killed in Malaysia: reports

The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told medical workers he was attacked with a chemical spray at Malaysia's international airport before he died, according to a Malaysian official quoted by Associated Press.

South Korean news outlets have blamed the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the 46 year-old eldest son of the late dictator Kim Jong-il, on North Korean spies.

Mr Kim became unwell after being attacked in a shopping concourse at the low cost terminal at the airport and went to a medical clinic but died while being rushed to hospital on Monday night.

He was known to have spent most of his time outside North Korea and had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated state.

Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told Malaysian state news agency Bernama that the deceased had been approached from behind.

"A woman came from behind and covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid," he said.

"The deceased ... felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind," Mr Fadzil said. "He felt dizzy, so he asked for help at the... counter of KLIA (airport)."

The man was seen struggling for help and sought assistance from airport staff, he said.

"So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are looking at a few possibilities to get leads," Mr Fadzil told Reuters.

Mr Fadzil said Kim Jong-nam had been planning to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Macau where he had been living under Chinese protection and was quoted in 2012 as saying North Korea needed "Chinese-style economic reform."

"I have conveyed the matter to the North Korean embassy," Mr Fadzil said, adding that an autopsy was planned to seek the cause of death.

South Korean media outlets reported the death was the result of a planned attack by North Korea spies, with some South Korean outlets originally claiming it had been carried out using "poison needles".

One of the outlets, Chosun, citing multiple local sources, claimed two women believed to be North Korean intelligence agents fled the airport in a taxi.

"I think the two were female spies dispatched by North Korea," said an intelligence official, quoted by the Korea Joonang Daily.

A South Korean government source confirmed the death to Reuters. There was no immediate comment from North Korea.

In a statement, Malaysian police said the dead man held a passport under the name Kim Chol, born in Pyongyang on June 10 1970.

Kim Jong-nam is believed to have been born on May 10 1971.

But Ken Gause, an American expert on North Korea, said Mr Kim had previously travelled under the name Kim Chol.

Mark Tokola, vice president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington and a former diplomat in South Korea, said it would be surprising if Kim Jong-nam was not killed on the orders of his half-brother, given that North Korean agents have reportedly tried to assassinate him in the past.

"It seems probable that the motivation for the murder was a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong-un," he said.

The North Korean leader has carried out a series of purges since assuming power five years ago which the South Korean government has described as a "reign of terror."

South Korea's national news agency Yonhap quoted a source saying agents of the North's spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, carried out the assassination by taking advantage of a security loophole between Mr Kim's bodyguards and Malaysian police at the airport.

South Korea's foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports on Chosun regarding the two female spies, and the country's intelligence agency could not immediately be reached for comment.

A US government source told Reuters it believed North Korea agents were responsible but did not provide evidence for that conclusion, and also said it was possible that Mr Kim had been poisoned.

Kim Jong-nam, was for many years considered the heir-apparent to his father but is believed to have fallen out of favour in 2001 after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport, saying he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

The Joonang Daily quoted an intelligence official as saying Mr Kim had been in a relationship with a woman in Malaysia and travelled there often.

In 2013 Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-thaek, once considered the country's second most powerful man, was executed and key figures linked to him purged.

Kim Jong-nam had been reportedly close to his uncle.

Kim Jong-nam was also an advocate of reform in the north, once telling a Japanese newspaper he opposed his country's dynastic power transfers.

He did not hold any official title in the North Korean government.

In 2008 Kim Jong-nam reportedly suffered a stroke after which he travelled frequently to countries in south-east Asia and the Chinese territory of Macau.

In 2012 he was reportedly having financial troubles and was evicted from a Macau hotel over a $US15,000 debt.

His mother is the late Kim Jong-il's second wife, Song Hye-rim, a South Korean-born actress and one of at least three women with whom the former leader had children.

The death became public late on Tuesday as the United Nations Security Council condemned Kim Jong-un for his country's firing of a ballistic missile on Sunday, the first direct challenge to the international community since US President Donald Trump took office on January 20.

North Korea's media rejected the criticism on Tuesday, saying launching the missile with a range of 2000 kilometres was a "self-defence measure".

Mr Trump, who was in the US with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the time of the launch, said, "I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 per cent."

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