KUALA LUMPUR: The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been assassinated in Malaysia, believed to be by two women operatives who attacked him with liquid poison just before he was to take a flight to Macau.
Police said an unidentified North Korean had been taken ill at KLIA2 and has since died.
Selangor CID chief Senior Asst Comm Fadzil Ahmat confirmed that man was Kim Jong-nam.
The 45-year-old was killed by the two female agents who splashed his face with a chemical at the airport’s departure hall at about 9am on Monday. The women later got into a cab and fled.
It is believed that Jong-nam arrived in Malaysia from Macau on Feb 6 and was about to leave when he was attacked by the female spies.
“He told the receptionist at the departure hall that someone had grabbed his face from behind and splashed some liquid on him.
“He asked for help and was immediately sent to the airport’s clinic. At this point, he was experiencing headache and was on the verge of passing out,” said SAC Fadzil.
“At the clinic, the victim experienced a mild seizure. He was put into an ambulance and was being taken to the Putrajaya Hospital when he was pronounced dead,” he said.
He said police would also investigate Jong-nam’s movements in Malaysia and the people he had met in the country. They will also study CCTV footage from the airport.
“We have also received a request for the body from the North Koreans but we will perform the post-mortem first,” he said.
The Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement that the dead man was travelling on a passport that identified him as Kim Chol.
Kim Chol was the name of the vice minister who was executed on the order of Jong-un in 2012. Kim Chol was reportedly forced to walk across a live-fire mortar exercise.
Jong-nam’s killing is the highest-profile death under the Kim Jong-un regime since the execution of the leader’s uncle Jang Song-thaek in December 2013.
Jong-un has been trying to strengthen his grip on power in the face of growing international pressure over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. The latest missile launch on Sunday brought UN Security Council condemnation.
Jong-nam was once considered heir apparent but fell out of favour with his father Kim Jong-il following an embarrassing botched attempt in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland.
He has since lived in virtual exile, mainly in the Chinese territory of Macau and lately in Singapore, where he is said to have taken a lover.
Jong-nam’s half-brother took over as North Korean leader when their father died in December 2011.
Jong-nam, known as an advocate of reform in the North, once told a Japanese newspaper that he opposed his country’s dynastic power transfers. He was reportedly close to his uncle Song-thaek, once the North’s unofficial number two and political mentor of the current leader.
Jong-nam has been targeted in the past. In October 2012, South Korean prosecutors said a North Korean detained as a spy had admitted involvement in a plot to stage a hit-and-run car accident in China in 2010 targeting Jong-nam.
In 2014, Jong-nam was reported to be in Indonesia – sighted at an Italian restaurant run by a Japanese businessman in Jakarta – and was said to be shuttling back and forth between Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and France.
In 2012, a Moscow newspaper reported that Jong-nam was having financial problems after being cut off by the Stalinist state for doubting its succession policy. The Argumenty i Fakty weekly said he was kicked out of a luxury hotel in Macau over a US$15,000 (RM67,500) debt.
Last year, South Korea warned of possible North Korean assassination attempts on its territory. It noted previous attempts to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the North’s chief ideologue and former tutor to Kim Jong-il, who defected to the South in 1997 and died of natural causes in 2010.
Jong-nam was born from his father’s extra-marital relationship with Sung Hye-rim, a South Korean-born actress who died in Moscow.