Kim Jong-un’s half-brother ‘killed with poisoned needles’ in Malaysia

Son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il attacked by agents at airport, reports say

Once considered the likely successor to his father Kim Jong-il as leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother to Kim Jong-un, has reportedly been assassinated with poison needles in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Video: Reuters

 

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been assassinated at Kuala Lumpur airport by two women armed with poisoned needles, South Korean media has reported, in what looks like a power struggle in the secretive communist country.

Kim Jong-nam was attacked by two unidentified agents with “poisoned needles,” in the Malaysian airport, the local Korean broadcaster TV Chosun reported and died while on his way to hospital.

The suspects fled the scene in a taxi and Malaysian police suspected North Korean intelligence was behind the killing, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

According to police official Fadzil Ahmat, Mr Kim had been planning to travel to Macau on Monday when he fell ill at the low-cost terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. “The deceased ... felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind,” Mr Fadzil said. “He felt dizzy, so he asked for help at the ... counter of KLIA.”

A pedestrian walks in front of a clinic where Kim Jong-Nam is believed to have been taken at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Photograph: Mohd Rasfanmohd/AFP/Getty Images
A pedestrian walks in front of a clinic where Kim Jong-Nam is believed to have been taken at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Photograph: Mohd Rasfanmohd/AFP/Getty Images

Mr Kim was taken to an airport clinic where he still felt unwell, and it was decided to take him to hospital. He died in the ambulance on the way to Putrajaya Hospital, Mr Fadzil added.

Eldest son

Mr Kim is the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, the child of a relationship between the late leader and his mistress Sung Hae-rim, a South Korean-born actress who died in Moscow. She was one of at least three women with whom the former North Korean leader had children.

Mr Kim had been critical of the North Korean regime and the dynasty begun by his grandfather, the Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung in 1948.

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The assassination comes days after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile, earning the condemnation of the international community and again drawing global attention to the Stalinist enclave that borders China.

In an interview with the Japanese TV station Asahi in October 2011, Mr Kim said he opposed “dynastic succession”.

Like his brothers, Kim Jong-nam was educated in Switzerland and he is believed to have lived in Macau, on the south coast of China for most of the last few years, although he has also been sighted in Singapore.

The Joonang Daily cited an intelligence officer as saying Mr Kim had been in a relationship with a woman in Malaysia, and had been in hiding in the country since his uncle Jang Song-thaek was executed for treason in December 2013.

A South Korean man watches TV showing breaking news about the alleged assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA
A South Korean man watches TV showing breaking news about the alleged assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

Plots against Kim Jong-nam

There have been reports of a number of plots against him over the years, including an attempt to run him over in 2010. He survived an assassination attempt in Macau around the time of his father’s death in 2011.

He had been tipped for the leadership, and is believed to have been close to China, but was disgraced after a strange incident in 2001 when he was found trying to enter Japan without a passport saying he wanted to visit Disneyland.

He was expelled to China soon after. His position had already been weakened after his powerful aunt Sung Hye-rang migrated to the US in 1996. She has written of how much Kim Jong-il favoured his eldest son until his fall from grace.

Relations with China have been strained since the North’s nuclear programme brought instability to China’s borders.

Kim Jong-il’s middle son, Kim Jong-chul, was considered “too effeminate” to become leader, and he has not been spotted since a reported sighting at an Eric Clapton concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2015.

Kim Jong-nam’s son Kim Han-sol, who was born in 1995, has given occasional interviews.

Analysts speculated that Kim Jong-un, who became the third Kim in the dynasty in 2012, ordered the assassination of his half-brother to tighten his grip on power.

“It has been over five years since Kim Jong-un took power. He may have felt pressured to consolidate his regime by getting rid of him” An Chan-il, head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told the Korea Times.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said that Kim Jong-un would have to have ordered the assassination and believed it was the work of the North Korean spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

“The bureau has kept a watch on Kim Jong-nam, and it is the agency in charge of assassinating key North Korean figures,” Mr Cheong noted.

Additional reporting Reuters