South Korea’s spy agency suspects two female North Korean agents assassinated the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Malaysia, lawmakers in Seoul said on Wednesday, as Malaysian medical authorities sought a cause of death.
U.S. government sources also told Reuters they believed that North Korean assassins killed Kim Jong Nam, who according to Malaysian police died on Monday on his way to hospital from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
South Korean intelligence believed Kim Jong Nam was poisoned, lawmakers said after being briefed by the country’s spy agency.
They said the spy agency told them that the young, unpredictable North Korean leader had issued a “standing order” for his half-brother’s assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.
Kim had been at the airport’s low cost terminal to catch a flight to Macau on Monday, when someone grabbed or held Kim’s face from behind, after which he felt dizzy and sought help, Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told Reuters.
Kim had at one time been set to assume the leadership of his isolated country, but fell out of favor after an embarrassing attempt to get into Japan on a fake passport in 2001.
According to South Korea’s spy agency, Kim Jong Nam had been living with his second wife in the Chinese territory of Macau, under Beijing’s protection, the lawmakers said. One of them said Kim Jong Nam also had a wife and son in Beijing.
Portly and gregarious, Kim Jong Nam had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated state.
“If the murder of Kim Jong Nam was confirmed to be committed by the North Korean regime, that would clearly depict the brutality and inhumanity of the Kim Jong Un regime,” South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the country’s acting president, told a security council meeting.
The assassination came as North Korea readied to celebrate the birthday this week of the two men’s father.
The meeting was called in response to Kim Jong Nam’s mysterious death, news of which first emerged late on Tuesday.
South Korea is acutely sensitive to any sign of potential instability in North Korea, and is still technically in a state of war with its impoverished and nuclear-armed neighbor.
Malaysian police said the dead man, 46, held a passport under the name Kim Chol. Kim Jong Nam was known to spend a
significant amount of time outside North Korea, traveling in Macau and Hong Kong as well as mainland China, and has been caught in the past using forged travel documents.
Malaysian police said on Tuesday the cause of Kim’s death was not yet known, and that a post-mortem would be carried out.
Kim’s body was taken on Wednesday morning to a second Kuala Lumpur hospital, where he will undergo an autopsy, police said.
North Korean embassy officials had arrived at the hospital and were coordinating with local authorities as they tried to piece together how the Cold War-style killing happened, police sources said.
One of the South Korean lawmakers said Seoul’s spy agency expected the body would be returned to Kim’s family in Macau.
A Malaysian police source who had seen closed-circuit TV footage from the airport said a woman was involved in the
“So far from the CCTV we can confirm it’s a woman,” the source said.
Asked during a news briefing if the murder of Kim Jong Nam was confirmed, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said: “Yes, I have said it is confirmed.”
South Korea’s TV Chosun, a cable-TV network, cited multiple South Korean government sources saying that Kim had been poisoned with a needle by two women believed to be North Korean operatives who fled in a taxi.