Kim Jong Nam death: suspect arrested, says spray attack was a prank
Malaysian police have arrested a woman carrying a Vietnamese passport over the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the 46-year-old playboy elder half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur's international airport.
"The suspect was positively identified from CCTV footage at the airport," Khalid Abu Bakir, Malaysia's police chief, told the state news agency Bernama.
CCTV cameras captured a woman of Asian descent standing outside Kuala Lumpur airport's low-cost terminal. She had shoulder-length hair, was wearing a skirt and a light-coloured top with the letters "LOL", and was carrying a handbag.
Police said in a statement the woman was carrying a passport under the name of Doan Thi Huong and was alone at the time of her arrest at the airport shortly after 8am on Wednesday (1pm NZT), two days after the assassination.
Police said as well as the detained woman they were hunting for "a few others, all foreigners" who are believed to still be in Malaysia.
"We believe she has a strong connection with the murder," said Malaysia's Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Noor Rashid Ibrahim.
The woman, whose passport said she was born in Nam Dinh, Vietnam, told police she was asked to spray Kim as part of a "prank", urged on by four men, according to a reporter from Hong Kong's Oriental Daily newspaper, who is in Kuala Lumpur.
The woman said the men instructed her to spray the liquid on Kim as her woman companion covered his face with a handkerchief, as she had been instructed, the newspaper said.
The newspaper quoted a police source saying the two women left the airport in a taxi together.
The detained woman claimed when she could not later find her companion or the four men, who told her they were going to a a hotel they named, she returned to the airport, where she was arrested on Wednesday.
Police have not confirmed the account.
Police said the security camera nearest the attack was not operating. But they said they have now pieced together how Kim first went to a bathroom to wipe his face after the attack and then walked to a police post before being directed to a clinic.
No other details were immediately available. Malaysian police were not available for further comment.
South Korea's intelligence agency and South Korean media outlets said that two female North Korean spies were responsible for the assassination, in broad daylight, in a shopping concourse on Monday.
They blamed Kim Jong Un's "paranoia" as the reclusive leader attempts to tighten his grip in the country of 28 million mostly impoverished people.
Kim Jong Nam, a 46-year-old jovial overweight gambler and playboy, told medical staff at an airport clinic he had been sprayed with poison before he died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.
Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told Malaysian state news agency Bernama that the deceased had been approached from behind.
"The deceased … felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind," Fadzil said. "He felt dizzy, so he asked for help at the … counter of KLIA [airport]."
Kim was known to have spent most of his time outside North Korea and had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated state.
Fadzil said Kim Jong Nam had been planning to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Macau, where he had been living under Chinese protection and was quoted in 2012 as saying North Korea needed "Chinese-style economic reform".
Police are investigating Kim's movements in Malaysia after he arrived in the country on February 6 on a flight from Macau.
Malaysia has received a request to send his body to North Korea, but it would not be released until completion of a post-mortem, which was being undertaken late on Wednesday, police said.
Malaysia is one of a dwindling number of countries that has close relations with North Korea, which is under global sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile launches. Malaysians and North Koreans can visit each other's countries without visas.
The North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur has made no comment.
South Korea's acting president and prime minister Hwang Kyo Ahn described the apparent assassination as a "brutal and inhumane" example of the nature of Kim Jong Un's regime.
"Based on the understanding that this case is of great importance, our government is keeping close tabs on North Korea's movements," Hwang said during a special session of his country's national security council on Wednesday.
He reiterated a call for strengthened sanctions and pressure to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
In October 2012, South Korean prosecutors said a North Korean man detained as a spy had admitted involvement in a plot to stage a hit-run accident targeting Kim Jong Nam in China in 2010.
North Korea has made no public announcement on the assassination.
A high-ranking Japanese government official, quoted by Japan's Kyodo News, earlier on Wednesday said: "There are already reports that [the two suspects] may already be dead."
North Korean agents have in the past taken their own lives after carrying out missions.
Kyodo cited the example of Kim Hyun Hee, a North Korean spy, who was ordered to take her own life after planting a bomb on a South Korean airliner in 1987 that killed 115 passengers. She did not die and later defected from the north.
In a statement, Malaysian police said the dead man held a passport under the name Kim Chol, born in Pyongyang on June 10, 1970.
Kim Jong Nam is believed to have been born on May 10, 1971. But Ken Gause, an American expert on North Korea, said Kim had previously travelled under the name Kim Chol.
Mark Tokola, vice-president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington and a former diplomat in South Korea, said it would be surprising if Kim Jong Nam was not killed on the orders of his half-brother, given that North Korean agents have reportedly tried to assassinate him in the past.
"It seems probable that the motivation for the murder was a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong Un," he said.
The North Korean leader has carried out a series of purges since assuming power five years ago, which the South Korean government has described as a "reign of terror".
South Korea's national news agency Yonhap quoted a source saying agents of the north's spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, carried out the assassination by taking advantage of a security loophole between Kim's bodyguards and Malaysian police at the airport.
South Korea's foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports in newspaper Chosun regarding the two female spies, and the country's intelligence agency could not immediately be reached for comment.
A US government source told Reuters it believed North Korean agents were responsible but did not provide evidence for that conclusion, and also said it was possible that Kim had been poisoned.
Kim Jong Nam was for many years considered the heir apparent to his father, but is believed to have fallen out of favour in 2001 after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport, saying he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
The Joongang Daily quoted an intelligence official as saying Kim had been in a relationship with a woman in Malaysia and travelled there often.
In 2013 Kim Jong Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, once considered the country's second most powerful man, was executed and key figures linked to him purged. Kim Jong Nam had reportedly been close to his uncle.
In 2008 Kim Jong Nam reportedly suffered a stroke, after which he travelled frequently to countries in south-east Asia and the Chinese territory of Macau.
In 2012 he was reportedly having financial troubles and was evicted from a Macau hotel over a $US15,000 debt.
His mother is the late Kim Jong Il's second wife, Song Hye Rim, a South Korean-born actress and one of at least three women with whom the former leader had children.
The death became public late on Tuesday as the United Nations Security Council condemned Kim Jong Un for his country's firing of a ballistic missile on Sunday, the first direct challenge to the international community since US President Donald Trump took office on January 20.
North Korea's media rejected the criticism on Tuesday, saying launching the missile with a range of 2000 kilometres was a "self-defence measure".
Trump, who was in the US with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the time of the launch, said, "I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 per cent."
- Sydney Morning Herald