Half-brother of N. Korean leader assassinated in Malaysia: media

By AFP   February 14, 2017 | 09:36 pm GMT+7
Half-brother of N. Korean leader assassinated in Malaysia: media
A man (R) believed to be North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong-nam is escorted by police as he boards a plane upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport May 4, 2001. Photo by Reuters/Eriko Sugita/File Photo

If confirmed, this would be the highest-profile death under the Kim Jong-Un regime.

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has been assassinated in Malaysia, South Korean media reported Tuesday, with one TV station saying he was attacked at the country's main airport with poisoned needles.

Officials in Seoul could not be reached for comment on the reported death of Kim Jong-Nam. Malaysian police said an unidentified Korean had been taken sick at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and since died.

If confirmed, Kim Jong-Nam's case would be the highest-profile death under the Kim Jong-Un regime since the execution of the leader's uncle Jang Song-Thaek in December 2013.

Kim 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 on Sunday of a new intermediate-range missile 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 Seoul government source as saying Kim Jong-Nam was killed on Monday.

Another source cited by Yonhap said agents of the North's spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, carried out the assassination 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.

That report, citing what it called multiple government sources, said the two women hailed a cab and fled immediately afterwards.

In Malaysia, the police chief in charge of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Assistant Commissioner Abdul Aziz Ali, told AFP a Korean in his forties was found sick at the airport on Monday.

Airport authorities rushed him to hospital and he died on the way, the police chief said.

"We do not have any other details of this Korean man. We do not know his identity," Abdul said.

Kim Jong-Nam, the eldest son of 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 North Korean 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 Jang Song-Thaek, once the North's unofficial number two and political mentor of the current leader.

Targeted in the past

Jong-Nam has been targeted in the past. In October 2012 South Korean prosecutors said a North Korean detained as a spy had admitted involvement in a plot to stage a hit-and-run car accident in China in 2010 targeting Kim Jong-Nam.

In 2014 Jong-Nam was reported to be in Indonesia -- sighted at an Italian restaurant run by a Japanese businessman in Jakarta -- and was said to be shuttling back and forth between Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and France.

In 2012 a Moscow newspaper reported that Jong-Nam was having financial problems after being cut off by the Stalinist state for doubting its succession policy.

The Argumenty i Fakty weekly said he was kicked out of a luxury hotel in Macau over a $15,000 debt.

Last year South Korea warned of possible North Korean assassination attempts in its territory. It noted previous attempts to assassinate Hwang Jang-Yop, the North's chief ideologue and former tutor to Kim Jong-Il, who defected to the South in 1997 and died of natural causes in 2010.

Jong-Nam was born from his father's extra-marital relationship with Sung Hae-rim, a South Korean-born actress who died in Moscow.

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