Updated at 6:30 a.m. ET on 2017-02-17
China has been asked to claim the body of the half-brother of North Korea’s leader who was allegedly murdered at an airport in Malaysia, according to a source Thursday.
The second wife of Kim Jong-Nam had asked the Chinese government through its embassy in Kuala Lumpur to claim his body following an autopsy, the source told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
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) on Monday.
At the time, he was about to board a flight to the Chinese territory of Macau, where, according to South Korean media reports, he had been living with Lee Hye Kyong under Beijing's protection.
"We have been informed that the family in Macau has made a request to claim the body," the source said, adding that the body would only be released after a full post-mortem report was prepared stating the cause of death.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy, but a foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday in Beijing that China was aware of reports of the death and was closely following developments.
South Korea's intelligence agency says female agents working for Pyongyang poisoned Kim as he was preparing to board a flight. U.S. government sources also strongly believe that North Korean agents murdered Kim Jong-Nam.
Kim had pleaded with his half-brother and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un five years ago to withdraw a standing order for his assassination, Seoul's intelligence agency had said. The leader allegedly believed his brother could be used in any overthrow of his regime.
North Korea has not made any public comment over Kim's death.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday that Kim’s body would be released to the next-of-kin or the North Korean embassy after all police and medical procedures had been completed.
On Wednesday, an official close to the investigation told BenarNews that North Korea had requested the Malaysian government to release the victim’s body without a post-mortem.
“But we turned down their request,” the official said.
It is not clear how Malaysia would handle dueling demands for the body amid the assassination claims.
On Thursday, police announced the arrest of two more suspects in the case, after nabbing a woman identified as 28-year-old Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam a day earlier.
Police said they had arrested another suspect and named her as Siti Aishah, 25, of Serang, Indonesia. They did not disclose the location of the arrest.
Police later said they had arrested Siti’s boyfriend, 26-year-old Malaysian Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin, “to assist in investigations.”
Separately, Zahid confirmed that the man allegedly assassinated at the airport was Kim Jong-Nam.
“His identity was confirmed from the passport that we compared with the document issued by the Embassy of North Korea and by the identity issued by the embassy,” Malaysian state news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.
The victim was carrying a North Korean passport bearing the name Kim Chol when he was attacked. The passport was authentic, Zahid said Thursday.
An autopsy has been completed at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital but authorities have yet to announce the findings.
“For DNA confirmation, that will need time, let the police and the medical experts confirm this,” Zahid was quoted as saying in a New Straits Times report.
Zahid said the death had not affected bilateral ties between North Korea and Malaysia, according to the Bernama report. He defended safety at airports in Malaysia and said this had been discussed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Malaysia is among a small list of countries with close relations with the communist regime in Pyongyang under global sanctions over its illegal nuclear weapons drives and ballistic missile launches, the latest of which took place on Sunday.
“Ahmad Zahid also gave an assurance on the safety at Malaysia's airports, including KL International Airport 2, saying it was at the highest level and that the death was an isolated case,” Bernama reported.
“Ahmad Zahid said that at yesterday's Cabinet meeting, it was stressed that the government would protect visitors to the country and would not compromise on any security issue created by Malaysians or foreigners,” the report said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.