It was like a plot straight out of a spy novel: 2 female assassins tracked the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un through a busy airport in Sepang, Malaysia on Monday, Feb. 13. The women assassinated 45-year-old Kim Jong Nam in broad daylight without drawing attention to themselves.
Surveillance video taken from several angles at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport shows Jong Nam entering the airport, wearing a light blue jacket, blue jeans and carrying a black backpack.
He paused to check the flight departure board before proceeding to the self check-in kiosk at the KLIA2 area. The check-in area was busy, as 2 women approached from opposite directions and circled him.
One woman, dressed in dark clothing, distracted him while the other woman, wearing a white top with “LOL” on the front, reached around with both arms and placed Jong Nam in a choke hold.
The women sprayed his face with a quick acting poison. They held a white towel or a hood over his face, possibly to prevent mist from escaping into the air.
Jong Nam, who is a large man, briefly struggled with the taller woman behind him, leading to speculation that she may be a man in drag.
After the attack, both women calmly strolled away in opposite directions. The attack lasted 5 seconds.
Jong Nam initially searched for a restroom to possibly wash his face. He approached the KLIA2 desk and was seen on video gesturing toward his face. His last words to police were in English: “Very painful. I was sprayed with liquid.”
He appeared relatively calm as police escorted him to the KLIA2 clinic on the 3rd floor.
Jong Nam later complained of a severe headache before suffering a seizure. He died of cardiac arrest en route to the hospital.
Authorities believe Jong Nam was either poisoned with cyanide or ricin (a deadly toxin found in castor beans).
An autopsy was performed on Mr. Kim’s body but no cause of death was released. North Korean diplomats showed up at the KL hospital mortuary attempting to block the autopsy. North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, said Friday the country would reject the results of a “forced” autopsy on one of its citizens. He demanded the release of Jong Nam’s body immediately.
Malaysian officials refuses to release the body until his next of kin comes forward and provides DNA to confirm his identity.
Mr. Kim was traveling on a forged passport under the name “Kim Chol”.
On Wednesday, Malaysian police arrested Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman, at the airport. Doan is believed to be the woman wearing the ‘LOL’ shirt in airport surveillance video.
Police also arrested 26-year-old Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin in the city of Anpang. He led them to the 2nd female suspect: his 25-year-old Indonesian girlfriend, Siti Aishah. She was arrested at 2 a.m. local time.
Siti told police she thought she was spraying Jong Nam as part of a prank for a reality TV show. She said she was paid about $300 USD for her part in the “prank”. Siti said she was “not aware it was an assassination attempt by alleged foreign agents,” according to Indonesian police.
North Korean Ri Jong Chol, 47, was the last to be arrested Friday in Selangor, Malaysia. He is a chemistry expert based in Indonesia.
Police are also searching for 4 male suspects who fled Malaysia the day Jong Nam was killed. The 4 men, all North Koreans, were seen in surveillance footage observing Jong Nam’s assassination from an airport cafe.
After the attack, the four men, ages 32 to 57, changed clothes and boarded a plane to North Korea. Police released the names of the 4 suspects as well as surveillance images of the men on Friday.
News of Jong Nam’s death was broadcast in South Korea on Tuesday, but North Korean residents are still unaware of his assassination. TV, radio and the Internet are tightly controlled by the North Korean government.
South Korean officials plan to announce Jong Nam’s death over loud speakers at the border between the 2 countries if an autopsy determines he was poisoned.
Jong Nam, the eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, was born in North Korea to a married Chinese actress. As Jong Il’s secret love child, he was raised by his paternal aunt Kim Kyung Hee and her husband, Chang Song Thaek, a high level government official who was executed by Jong Un in 2013.
Jong Nam is quoted as saying:
“My father was keeping highly secret the fact that he was living with my mother who was married, a famous movie actress, so I couldn’t get out of the house or make friends. That solitude from childhood may have made me what I am now, preferring freedom.”
As a teenager, Jong Nam studied in Russia and Switzerland, where he learned fluent Japanese, English and French. Jong Nam lived in exile under Chinese protection in the gambling city of Macau for over a decade before moving to Malaysia after an assassination attempt on his life in 2014.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, 33, is suspected of placing a “standing order” for a hit on his half brother, who criticized him often.
According to published reports, Jong Un was paranoid that the Chinese were relying on his brother to take his place if his regime collapsed.
Jong Nam was the first in line to succeed his father Jong Il, who died of a heart attack in 2011. But he fell out of grace when he was caught using a fake passport to sneak into Tokyo to visit Disneyland in 2001. His father was so embarrassed that he canceled a trip to China.
China, North Korea’s only ally until last week, told American President Donald Trump it cut off North Korea’s coal imports to China after North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea on Sunday, Feb. 12.
Cutting off North Korea’s coal imports will severely impact the economy of the impoverished country.
There are signs that Beijing is growing wary of shielding North Korea from the South Korea and the American troops stationed there.
As unstable as the north is, it provides a safe barrier between China and American troops stationed in South Korea.
Beijing is apparently tired of North Korea’s shenanigans.
Beijing bodyguards protected Jong Nam and his family in Macau for over a decade until he moved to Malaysia following an attempt on his life in 2014.
Beijing hoped Jong Nam might take his brother’s place as North Korea’s leader if Jong Un’s regime fell. Now Beijing may be willing to allow the collapse of Jong Un’s regime.
“In the past, whatever North Korea would do, China would pick up the tab for it. The cost was huge, but the pay-off was next to nothing,” former journalist Deng Juwen told CNN.
Beijing may be thinking “we’re running interference for you, and this is what you do behind our backs,” he says.
There were previous attempts on Jong Nam’s life, even though he was frequently quoted as saying he wasn’t interested in succeeding his brother as leader.
In one unsuccessful assassination attempt in April 2012, Jong Nam sent a letter to his brother, Jong Un, begging for his life. The letter read in part, “Please spare me and my family. We have nowhere to go”.