MS Risk Blog

North Korean Leader’s Half-Brother Mysteriously Killed in Malaysia

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Officials announced on 15 February that a female suspect has been arrested in Malaysia in connection with the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother.

Quoting police, Malaysian newspaper reports indicate that Kim Jong-name was attacked on 13 February morning while waiting at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a 10:00 flight to Macau. Exactly how the attack unfolded remains unclear, however officials and witnesses have variously said that he was splashed with a chemical or had a cloth placed over his face. Earlier reports spoke of a “spray” being used or a needle. He died on route to the hospital.

Local police have disclosed that the woman was arrested at the airport in the capital Kuala Lumpur, where Kim Jong-nam was targeted in an apparent poisoning on 13 February. She was in possession of a Vietnamese travel document. Malaysian police have disclosed that the arrested suspect, who was alone, was identified from CCTV footage taken at the airport. They have named her as Doan Thi Huong, 28, adding that they are looking for “a few” other suspects.

South Korean media have widely reported that two women, said to be North Korean agents, were involved and fled the airport in a taxi. Malaysian police however have not confirmed these details. A grain image broadcast in South Korea and Malaysia depicts a woman wearing a white t-shirt with the letters “LOL” written on the front.

Malaysia has also yet to formally confirm that the dead man is Kim Jong-nam, as he was travelling under a different name – Kim Chol. However the South Korean government has said that it is certain that it is him. Furthermore, the country’s spy agency is said to have told lawmakers that they believe Mr Kim was poisoned. South Korean spy chief Lee Byung-ho told South Korean MPs that Pyongyang had wanted to kill Kim Jong-nam for several years, but that he was being protected by China. Unnamed US government sources have also disclosed that they believe he was poisoned by North Korean agents. Some analysts however are questioning what motive Kim Jong-un would have to kill his estranged half-brother, given the risk of the operation and possibilities for embarrassment, and the fact that he was not seen as a threat to Mr Kim’s leadership. However it has been reported that Mr Kim was reportedly targeted for assassination in the past. In 2012, a North Korean spy was jailed in South Korea. He is said to have admitted to trying to organize a hit-and-run accident targeting Kim Jong-un. North Korea has also had a long history of sending agents overseas to carry out assassinations, attacks and kidnappings.

If it is confirmed that this was the North Korean leader’s half-brother, then it would be the most high-profile death linked to North Korea since Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Chang Song-thaek, who was executed in 2013. While North Korea has not commented on the death, officials from the country’s Malaysian embassy have been visiting the hospital in Kuala Lumpur where Mr Kim’s body has been taken.

Who is Kim Jong-nam?

This is not the first time that Mr Kim has travelled under an assumed identify: he was caught in 2001 trying to enter Japan using a fake passport. At the time, he told officials that he had been planning to visit Tokyo Disneyland. That incidents is thought by some analysts to have spoilt Kim Jong-nam’s chances of succeeding his father, Kim Jong-Il, who died in 2011.

After being bypassed in favor of his youngest half-brother for succession, Kim Jon-nam kept a low profile, spending most of his time overseas in Macau, mainland China and Singapore. He later spoke out against his family’s dynastic control of North Korea and in a book in 2012, he was quoted as stating that he believed his younger half-brother lacked leadership qualities. He however had said that he was not interested in assuming the leadership himself.

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