South Korea confirms poison murder of Kim Jong Nam, says he was target of North Korean agents for five years

A man watching a television showing news reports of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Seoul, on Feb 14, 2017.
A man watching a television showing news reports of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Seoul, on Feb 14, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL  - South Korea's spy agency has confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother Kim Jong Nam was killed with poison in Malaysia, and that Pyongyang agents have been trying to assassinate him in the past five years.

In a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday (Feb 15), National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Lee Byung Ho confirmed that Mr Kim Jong Nam was killed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). But it is not certain if a needle or chemical spray was used to attack him. 

There were previous attempts to kill Mr Kim Jong Nam, including one in 2012, according to the briefing by Mr Lee. But he had been under the protection of Chinese authorities, who were reportedly grooming him to take over if the Kim Jong Un regime were to collapse. 

Mr Kim Byung Kee, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee who attended the NIS briefing, told reporters: “There was one bid in 2012, and Jong Nam in April 2012 sent a letter to Jong Un saying ‘Please spare me and my family’.”

Mr Kim Jong Nam, 45, was waiting to take a plane to Macau at the low-cost terminal of KLIA when he was approached by two women presumed to be North Korean agents. They attacked him and fled in a taxi. He sought medical aid at the airport and died on the way to the hospital.

Mr Kim Jong Nam, who lived in exile outside of North Korea for over a decade after falling out of favour with his father, the late Kim Jong Il, was a critic of the Kim Jong Un regime. He had openly criticised Pyongyang's political system and was opposed to hereditary succession.

South Korea's acting president Hwang Kyo Ahn said that the murder, if confirmed to be carried out by Pyongyang, is a "telling sign of the North Korean regime's brutal and inhumane nature".

Mr Hwang, who convened a national security meeting on Wednesday, also said that the South Korean government was keeping close tabs on North Korean moves and he had asked officials to come up with measures to deal with additional provocations from the North. Pyongyang test-fired a new ballistic missile on Sunday in a show of force against the United States and Japan reaffirming their alliance. 

Observers believe that the assassination is part of Mr Kim's plans to further consolidate his power and remove any potential threat to his authority. 

Mr Kim Jong Nam was once deemed heir apparent but reportedly fell out of favour with his father after being arrested in 2001 for trying to enter Japan on a fake passport. He was sent to live in exile in Beijing and Macau, but fled for Singapore and Malaysia after his brother assumed power in late 2011. 

His body was taken to a hospital in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday for an autopsy. According to the NIS, Mr Kim's family will likely have custody of his body after autopsy. He was known to have two wives and three children.