A woman suspected of taking part in the assassination of the half-brother of Kim Jong-Un changed her appearance and her hotel several times before she was arrested, hotel staff said Friday.
Meanwhile, Indonesian officials said a second woman in Malaysian custody, Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, was duped into helping carry out the hit by being told she was participating in a reality TV prank filmed with hidden cameras, according to reports.
Details of the two main suspects emerged Friday as Malaysian police pursued their investigation into the sudden death on Monday of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-sibling of Pyongyang regime leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim died en route to hospital after reportedly telling medical personnel that a woman had attacked him with a chemical spray at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) as he was waiting to board a flight to Macau that day.
Malaysian officials have yet to release an autopsy report stating the cause of death. South Korea has pointed the finger at North Korea, citing a "standing order" from Kim Jong Un to kill his sibling and a failed assassination bid in 2012 after he criticized the regime.
In a tirade outside the Malaysian morgue where the body is being held, North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol lambasted officials on Friday for refusing to release it and said Pyongyang would not accept the result of a post-mortem conducted by Malaysian authorities.
Armed with a teddy bear
Malaysian police said both women had been positively identified from CCTV footage taken at the airport around the time of Kim’s death. A Malaysian man described as Siti’s boyfriend was also arrested, and police were searching for at least four other male suspects.
Vietnam has not commented on reports that the first suspect arrested in the case was carrying a passport identifying her as 28-year-old Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam.
She had checked into three hotels in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Sepang – not far from the airport – between Feb. 11 and Feb. 15, when she was arrested, employees at the hotels said.
She changed her appearance and was seen wearing a surgical mask, according to interviews with hotel receptionists. At one of the hotels, the woman borrowed a pair of scissors from staff that she used to cut her shoulder-length hair down to a bob.
Staffers said she checked in carrying bags and a stuffed animal half her size.
“She came in with a very big teddy bear, and two bags,” said an employee of one of the hotels.
She stayed at the first hotel from Feb. 11 to 12, at the next one from Feb. 12 to 13 – the day of the killing – and the last one from the 13th to the 15th, according to interviews with receptionists.
A supervisor at the third hotel, who asked not to be identified, said the woman “changed her contact lenses color every day” and covered her face indoors with a surgical mask, which she took off when she went out in the evenings to get food.
The supervisor described the woman as “tall and pretty.”
“I thought she was Korean until she produced her passport,” the supervisor said.
No laughing matter
The Vietnamese passport holder was wearing a white shirt emblazoned with “LOL” when she was caught by a CCTV camera at the airport terminal on the day of the killing.
On Friday, Indonesian police chief Tito Karnavian told reporters that Siti Aisyah was a victim of people who fooled her into taking part in the assassination.
Citing information relayed by Malaysian police, Tito said Siti had been paid along with another woman to pull off several pranks – which called for ambushing a man and spraying water in his face – for a show similar to “Just for Laughs,” a popular TV program that uses concealed cameras, the Associated Press reported.
“Such an action was done three or four times and they were given a few dollars for it, and with the last target, Kim Jong-Nam, allegedly there were dangerous materials in the sprayer,” Tito said, according to AP.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla backed up the claim that Siti had been duped.
Kalla said Siti was “a victim of manipulation.”
“Kim … [was] a victim of a victim because Aisyah was also a victim,” Kalla told reporters in Jakarta, brushing off allegations that she was a North Korean operative.
“If she were an agent, I think she would have disappeared without a trace,” he said, adding that the Indonesian government would provide her with legal aid.
Siti is a divorced mother of a 7-year-old boy who lives with his paternal grandparents in Tambora, West Jakarta, according to her former father-in-law, Lian Kiong.
Lian Kiong defended her over the reports, denying that she could have been involved in such a cloak-and-dagger crime.
“I don’t believe it,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
He described his former daughter-in-law as polite and a good person. He last saw her on Jan. 28, when Aisyah came with her mother to visit her son, and she seemed “normal,” he said.
“If you saw her, she’d just smile,” a former neighbor, Damayanti, told BenarNews about Siti, who once worked at a garment factory in Tambora, ironing and folding jackets.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.