Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, fell ill at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport en route to Macau on Monday, dying soon after on the way to hospital and now South Korean officials are claiming he was poisoned. Little is known about the murder, but a woman with a Vietnamese travel document has been arrested in connection with his death.
Malaysian TV reports initially stated that Kim Jong-nam was attacked at the airport with poison needles, with South Korea’s TV Chosun claiming that two female assailants, both believed to be North Korean agents, escaped by taxi. According to Malaysia’s Selangor State Criminal Investigations Department chief Fadzil Ahmet, the official cause of death has not been confirmed yet, with investigators still awaiting the results of an autopsy on Mr. Kim’s body. Meanwhile, Lee Cheol Woo, chairman of South Korea’s National Assembly Intelligence Committee, stated in a press briefing that Mr. Kim was poisoned, however, the death has not been made public in North Korea and most likely won’t be given his history with the secretive state.
Chief Fadzil told Reuters that Mr. Kim “felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind,” adding that he “He felt dizzy, so he asked for help,” most likely at an information counter within the airport. Although Kim Jong-nam’s exact age is unclear, an emergency ward employee at Putrajaya Hospital, where Mr. Kim was rushed, also told Reuters that there was a deceased Korean there, born in 1970 and with the surname Kim, but did not confirm if it was in fact Kim Jong-nam or even a North Korean. A car bearing the North Korean flag was, however, seen entering the hospital’s mortuary.
Kim Jong-nam, the first son of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, survived a previous assassination attempt in Macau back in 2011, where he had been living a luxurious lifestyle allegedly under protection by the Chinese government since 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan in order to visit Tokyo Disneyland with a fake passport. In December 2013 his uncle, Jang Sung-thaek, was also assassinated and Mr. Kim had been in hiding in Malaysia ever since. Mr. Kim has previously spoken out about his family’s control over North Korea, a possible motive behind his death.
Mr. Kim was born out of a non-marital affair that Kim Jong-il had had with Sung Hae-rim, an actress born in Changnyeong, an area which was once part of North Korea, but is now situated in South Korea. Kim Jong-nam, once believed to be his father’s successor, had fallen out with the then-leader over his secret trip to Japan and also, as some rumors claimed, for being too “effeminate”. Furthermore, Kim had never met his half-brother, Kim Jong-un, due to North Korea’s practice of raising successors separately.