Kim Jong-nam’s Death
On Feb.13, Kim Jong-nam, the elder half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, was murdered in the low-cost carrier terminal of Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Malaysian police reported that he was waiting for a flight to Macau when a woman covered his face with a cloth that burned his eyes. Malaysian police believe that the VX nerve agent was smeared on his face. Kim died within 15-20 minutes, en route to the hospital.
There were delays in identifying Kim’s body. Police found a travel document identifying him as "Kim Chol", born on June 10, 1970; Kim Jong-nam was born on May 10, 1971. This is not the first time Kim has traveled under an assumed identity. In 2001, he was caught trying to enter Japan with a false passport. He told officials he had been planning to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
The Tokyo Disneyland incident is thought to have removed Kim Jong-nam’s chances of succeeding his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011. After his father’s death, Kim Jong-nam kept a low profile, spending most of his time in Macau, Mainland China, and Singapore.
Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, the two women accused of killing Kim Jong-nam, have recently been charged with murder. Authorities have reported that both women thought they were a part of a TV prank show. Aisyah thought the substance she rubbed on Kim’s face was “a kind of oil, baby oil.” A friend of Aisyah said that she was “naïve” and easily “manipulated”, but there is widespread suspicion that Pyongyang was responsible. If convicted, both women will face execution by hanging.
In South Korea, there is little doubt that Kim Jong-un was responsible for his half-brother’s death. In a 2012 book, Kim Jong-nam was quoted as saying he believed his younger half-brother lacked leadership qualities. Kim Myung-yeon, a spokesperson for South Korea’s ruling Liberty Korea Party, said that the killing was “a naked example of Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror.” Since taking power, Kim Jong-un has executed more than 140 senior party officials who were deemed a threat to his authority, including executing his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek, in 2013 on the charges of factionalism, corruption, and sedition.
A North Korean suspect was arrested in connection to Kim Jong-nam’s death, saying his detention was a “plot” to “damage the honor of the republic” but he was released from police custody due to insufficient evidence. Malaysian authorities continue to investigate Kim’s death. Kang Chol, North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, was declared “persona non grata” and has been asked to leave the country within 48 hours after saying North Korea could not trust Malaysia’s handling of the inquiry.
Kim Jong Nam’s death has unleashed a diplomatic battle between North Korea and Malaysia, leading Malaysia to cancel visa-free travel for visiting North Koreans.