Four North Korean suspects fled KL after Kim's murder: Police

Malaysia's National Police Deputy Inspector-General Noor Rashid Ibrahim (front, left) speaking in front of a screen showing North Korean suspect Hong Song Hac during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, in Kuala Lum
Malaysia's National Police Deputy Inspector-General Noor Rashid Ibrahim (front, left) speaking in front of a screen showing North Korean suspect Hong Song Hac during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Feb 19, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Four North Korean suspects fled Kuala Lumpur immediately after the Feb 13 murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam, Malaysian police said yesterday at their first press conference on the alleged assassination of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim said the four, aged between 33 and 57, left on the same day of the 9am attack, but declined to reveal where they had fled to. He named them as Ri Ji Hyon, Hong Song Hac, O Jong Gil and Ri Jae Nam.

He also would not comment on whether the attack was ordered by Pyongyang, despite widespread belief that Mr Kim's younger sibling ordered his assassination.

"The police force investigation, we are not interested in political and other elements. What we are interested in is why they committed such a crime in our country. Our job is to reveal the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice," the deputy police chief said.

But South Korea asserted yesterday that with five suspects being North Korean - including one already arrested - it was clear Pyongyang had ordered the assassination.

"We view that the North Korean government is behind the incident," Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "As North Korea has been committing inhumane crimes and acts of terror, we are keeping a close eye on the latest incident with grave concern."

Police are also seeking three other men, one of them North Korean and two whose nationalities have yet to be identified, to assist in the investigations.

According to Tan Sri Noor Rashid, Mr Kim was using a passport under the name Kim Chol to fly back to Macau after arriving in Kuala Lumpur from there on Feb 6 on an AirAsia flight. He told a customer service officer at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 that two women had "swabbed or wiped" liquid on his face.

The 45-year-old eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was taken to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival, the deputy police chief said.

Mr Noor Rashid said the findings of toxicology and pathological tests from Wednesday's postmortem were still pending.

"This is a very, very important investigation, and the hospital is looking at every aspect of it. We have to send a sample to the chemistry department, we have to send samples for toxicology tests. And in a few days, we will have the results," he said.

Asked what kind of poison was used on Mr Kim, Mr Noor Rashid would say only that it was "still in the process" of being determined.

 

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He repeated an appeal for Mr Kim's next-of-kin to step forward to help with the probe and claim the body, saying only that police would look at "the next option" if no one comes forward two weeks after his death.

North Korean diplomats in Malaysia tried but failed to stop the autopsy and claim Mr Kim's body, accusing Kuala Lumpur of working with the secretive country's enemies.

Four people have been arrested in the case so far, including North Korean information technology worker Ri Jong Chol, who is based in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that a Vietnamese rice farmer believes that his sister is one of the four arrested. Mr Joseph Doan confirmed that his sister's name was Doan Thi Huong and that she was born in 1988 in Nam Dinh province, matching details released by Malaysian police.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Four N. Korean suspects fled KL after Kim's murder: Police'. Print Edition | Subscribe