Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET on 2017-02-14
South Korean media reported Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother has been assassinated in Malaysia by government agents from North Korea, but police in Kuala Lumpur could not immediately confirm the reports.
Kim Jong Nam has been murdered in Malaysia, a South Korean government source was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. South Korea’s TV Chosun, a cable television network, reported that Kim had been poisoned with a needle by two women believed to be North Korean operatives.
Kim had been planning to travel to Macau on Monday when he fell ill at the low-cost terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA2), reports said.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement that a North Korean man identified as Kim Chol who sought initial medical assistance at the KLIA2 airport customer service counter, had died en route to hospital on Monday.
“Investigation is in progress and a postmortem examination request has been made to ascertain the cause of death,” he said.
The Korean was holding a passport with the number 836410070 and born on June 10, 1970, Khalid said.
Police officials could not immediately explain the difference in the names of the deceased and that of the half-brother of the North Korean leader but have not dismissed the news reports of his death.
Kim Jong Nam is in his mid-40s, according to reports. It is not immediately known whether the dead man was using an alias.
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.
Malaysia is among a small list of countries with close relations with the hard line regime in Pyongyang under global sanctions over its illegal nuclear weapons drives and ballistic missile launches, the latest of which took place at the weekend and was condemned on Monday by the UN Security Council.
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, Agence France-Presse said.
Malaysian newspaper Berita Harian, citing Selangor police chief Abdul Samah Mat, said a woman who appeared to be Korean threw a cloth over the victim’s head at the airport.
CCTV footage being examined
“Based on initial investigations, we have a woman who appears to be Korean approaching the victim before suddenly covering his head,” Mat told Berita Harian on Monday night.
“At this moment, police are examining the CCTV footage to get a clear picture of the suspect before she acted,” he said.
The suspect and another woman fled from the scene, Mat said.
“At this moment we cannot give any clear motive including whether this case is linked to conflicts inside or outside of North Korea,” he said.
“Our focus is to identify the suspect involved and to hunt down this suspect for further measures in accordance with the laws of this country.”
The exact cause of death had not been identified because a postmortem examination was not yet complete, he said.
The incident happened at 8 a.m. Monday when the victim was in the departure hall of KLIA2, and planning to board a flight to Macau after arriving in Malaysia on Feb. 6, Berita Harian reported.
In Washington, a State Department spokesperson told RFA's Korean Service "we are aware of reports. We refer you to the Malaysian authorities."
Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un are both sons of former leader Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011, but they had different mothers. Kim Jong Nam was often seen in Macau and was known to spend much of his time outside of North Korea.
Kim Jong Nam made international headlines in 2001, when he was caught at an airport in Japan traveling on a fake passport from the Dominican Republic, telling authorities he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
The Wall Street Journal, in a report on Kim's death from Seoul, said the killing eliminating a reform-minded member of North Korea’s ruling dynasty who was once considered next in line to rule the isolated country."
Kim Kwang In, a North Korea expert and director of the Coalition for the Modernization of Korea, told RFA there would be some logic to eliminating Kim Jong Nam from the point of view of Kim Jong Un, who took power when his father died in 2011.
“Should the Kim Jong Un regime collapse it is Kim Jong Nam who could replace Kim Jong Un. From that respect, it is possible that Kim Jong Un orchestrated his half-brother’s assassination.”\
Reported by RFA's Korean Service and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.