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SEOUL, Feb 14, (Agencies): North Korean female agents using poisoned needles have assassinated the half-brother of the North’s leader Kim Jong- Un in Malaysia, South Korean media reported Tuesday. Officials in Seoul and Kuala Lumpur could not confirm the death of Kim Jong-Nam, once seen as heir apparent in the North. Malaysian police said in a statement late Tuesday that a North Korean man, identified as Kim Chol, sought medical assistance at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and died on the way to hospital.
South Korean media reports meanwhile said Jong-Nam had travelled using a fake passport under the name of Kim Chol. If confirmed, it would be the highest-profile death under the Jong-Un regime since the execution of the leader’s uncle Jang Song-Thaek in December 2013. Jong-Un has been trying to strengthen his grip on power in the face of growing international pressure over his country’s nuclear and missile programmes. He has reportedly staged a series of executions. The latest launch of a new intermediate-range missile on Sunday brought UN Security Council condemnation and vows of a strong response from US President Donald Trump. South Korea’s national news agency Yonhap quoted a source as saying agents of the North’s spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, carried out the assassination on Monday by taking advantage of a security loophole between Jong-Nam’s bodyguards and Malaysian police at the airport. The 45-year-old was killed by two unidentified female agents using poisoned needles at the airport, according to South Korean broadcaster TV Chosun. It said the women hailed a cab and fled immediately afterwards.
Jong-Nam, the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favour following an embarrassing botched attempt in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland. He has since lived in virtual exile, mainly in the Chinese territory of Macau. Jong-Nam’s half-brother Jong-Un took over as leader when their father died in December 2011. Jong-Nam, known as an advocate of reform in the North, once told a Japanese newspaper that he opposed his country’s dynastic power transfers. He was reportedly close to his uncle Song-Thaek, once the North’s unofficial number two and political mentor of the current leader. Cheong Seong-Jang, senior researcher at Seoul’s Sejong Institute think-tank, said Jong- Nam had been living in nearexile so it was unlikely that Jong-Un saw him as a potential competitor for power. “But if Jong-Nam committed an act to damage Jong-Un’s authority, I think it’s possible that the Reconnaissance General Bureau may have directly conducted the assassination under the orders of Jong-Un since it has been in charge of closely watching Jong-Nam.” Jong-Nam has been targeted in the past. The South Korean government source who spoke to Reuters did not immediately provide further details.
In Washington, a US government source said the United States believed that North Korean agents were responsible for the murder, but did not provide firm evidence to support that conclusion. There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the Trump administration, which is facing a stiff challenge from a defiant North Korea over its test of a ballistic missile last weekend. In a statement, Malaysian police said the dead man, aged 46, held a passport under the name Kim Chol. Kim Jong Nam has been caught in the past using forged travel documents. Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat said the cause of Kim’s death was not yet known, and that a post mortem would be carried out. “So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are look ing at a few possibilities to get leads,” Fadzil told Reuters.
According to Fadzil, Kim had been planning to travel to Macau on Monday when he fell ill at the low-cost terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). “The deceased … felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind,” Fadzil said. “He felt dizzy, so he asked for help at the … counter of KLIA.” 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, Fadzil added. South Korea’s TV Chosun, a cable-TV network, reported that Kim had been poisoned with a needle by two women believed to be North Korean operatives who fled in a taxi and were at large, citing multiple South Korean government sources. Reuters could not confirm those details. South Korea’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports, and the country’s intelligence agency could not immediately be reached for comment. The US government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was possible that Kim Jong Nam had been poisoned. The US source said it could not be ruled out that assassins used some kind of “poison pen” device.