Malaysian police are seeking four North Korean suspects who left the country the day the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was murdered, a top police official told a press conference on Sunday.
The four men arrived in Malaysia between Jan. 31and Feb. 7, Royal Malaysia Police Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim said at police headquarters in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
"We can confirm that the four left the country on Feb. 13, the same day the incident happened,” he said. "We are cooperating with Interpol and relevant bodies in the region to track them down.”
Police are looking for three other suspects to assist the investigation, a North Korean national and two others whose identities were still being established, Noor Rashid said, confirming that the incident was being treated as a murder case.
Kim Jong Nam was declared dead at Putrajaya Hospital on Feb. 13 after being transferred from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 where he sought medical assistance at the airport service counter.
Kim, who was supposed to take an Air Asia flight to Macau at 10:50 a.m. on that day, was approached by two women who allegedly sprayed liquid at him and wiped his face with a cloth.
Four men were captured on closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera observing the assassination from a nearby restaurant, according to the New Straits Times, a Malaysian newspaper.
South Korea has pointed the finger of blame 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 Seoul, a top official said Sunday’s announcement showed that North Korean agents had at last succeeded. "We believe the North Korean regime is behind this incident considering five suspects are North Koreans," Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman at the South Korea's Unification Ministry that handles inter-Korea affairs, told a briefing, according to Reuters.
Malaysian police arrested a North Korean suspect, identified as Ri Jong Chol, 47, late on Friday, bringing the number of suspects in custody to four.
Pressed on where the four suspects went after departing Malaysia, Noor Rashid said, “I’m not going to disclose to where they have left, this is very sensitive.”
The four held normal passports, and police could not say whether they were working for the North Korean government, he said.
"Our next plan is to get them. We of course have international cooperation especially with Interpol, bilateral involvement with the country involved, we will go through these avenues to get them," he said.
The police press conference was the first since Kim was assassinated on Feb. 13. Malaysian officials had yet to release an autopsy report stating the cause of death. Results of pathology and toxicology tests are still pending, Noor Rashid said.
“At the moment, I cannot say the cause of death,” he said.
Deadline for next-of-kin
Noor Rashid said Malaysian police were looking for Kim’s next-of-kin to identify the body, and gave relatives two weeks to come forward.
“As for now, he is identified as Kim Chol, aged 47, from North Korea, based on his passport found on the deceased,” the official said.
“The most eligible to identify the body physically is the next-of-kin. I have given a timeframe, and if they still don’t come forward, then we will have to look for the next option.”
North Korea lambasted Malaysia on Friday for refusing to release the body, and said it would not accept the results of any post-mortem conducted by Malaysian authorities.
In a statement outside the morgue of the main hospital in Kuala Lumpur, North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol, appearing furious, accused Malaysia of "trying to conceal something" and "colluding with the hostile forces” over the case.
“They can say whatever that they want to say. We are just following our procedures and regulations,” Noor Rashid said Sunday.
In addition to the North Korean man, police have three people in custody: a woman identified as Doan Thi Huong, 28, of Vietnam; Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, 25; and Malaysian national Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin, 26, identified by police as Siti’s boyfriend.
In Sunday’s press conference, Malaysian authorities disclosed that Doan arrived in Malaysia on Feb. 4 from Hanoi, while Siti two days earlier from Batam, Indonesia, but the two had been working in Malaysia previously at an entertainment outlet and spa center, respectively.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.