SEOUL: The shocking murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, could have been engineered by a faction loyal to the current chief to eliminate a possible threat to the regime, experts here said Wednesday.
Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the late Kim Jong-il, died Monday after allegedly being attacked with poison by two unidentified women at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
South Korea's top spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, told lawmakers Wednesday that the incident is presumed to have been based on Kim Jong-un's "delusion," rather than on any calculation that his half-brother is a real threat to the regime.
However, experts refuted the notion in interviews with The Korea Herald.
"In order to show their loyalty to Kim Jong-un, some fervent subordinates might have acted on a tacit order from him to take out Kim Jong-nam," said Ahn Chan-il, director of the World North Korea Research Center. Ahn was a military office in North Korea before he fled to the South in 1979.
The defector noted there must be a more "urgent need" to assassinate Kim Jong-nam – such as his attempts to defect to South Korea or western countries – refuting the NIS' assessment that the elder Kim was killed due to Kim Jong-un's personal hatred of him.
When his father Kim Jong-il died in 2012, there was a rumour that Kim Jong-nam considered defection to liberal democracies, including South Korea. Recently, a local news outlet reported that the NIS tried to have him defect to Seoul, but the plot was halted because the agency could not grant his request for defection.
The assassination campaign might have been orchestrated by Kim Yo-jung, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, Ahn added. Kim Yo-jung worked as a vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, an agency devoted to developing the leader's cult of personality.
Other experts speculated that the assassination could have been led by the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, Pyongyang's intelligence agency, which manages the communist state's clandestine operations, mostly against South Korea.
"It seems to me that GBR was directly involved with the killing of Kim Jong-nam," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute. "The agency has been spying on him and they are in charge of assassinating dissenting officials."
Regarding the motive for taking out his own brother, experts noted that Kim Jong-un was "extremely nervous" about Kim Jong-nam amid rumors that the elder Kim might have been supported by China, the main ally of North Korea.
Kim Jong-nam, living in Macau under the protection of China, had been a vocal critic of the young North Korean leader.
"From the Kim Jong-un regime's point of view, Kim Jong-nam is like a pain in the a**," said Ko Yoo-hwan, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University. "The people in Pyongyang might have been afraid that Kim Jong-nam could work as a dissenter."
Kim Jong-nam, has been living outside North Koreea ever since since falling out of the succession race after his mother - Sung Hae-rim - was rejected by the late leader Kim Jong-il.. The Korea Herald/Asia News Network