KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysia’s police chief on Friday (March 10) confirmed that the man assassinated at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport last month was Kim Jong-Nam, half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un.
“We’ve now established that Kim Chol is Kim Jong-Nam,” Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference, but he declined to give details of how the body’s identity was confirmed.
“For the security of the witnesses so I’m not going to tell you how it was done,” he said.
Malaysian authorities had earlier declined to officially confirm the victim’s identity or release his body, saying they needed a DNA sample from next-of-kin.
The 45-year-old was carrying a passport bearing the name of Kim Chol when he was attacked on February 13 with the lethal nerve agent VX by two women.
His wife and children, who were living in exile in the Chinese territory of Macau, have since gone into hiding over fears that his 21-year-old son, Kim Han-Sol, could be seen as a potential rival by his uncle Kim Jong-Un in a country roiled by bloody purges.
The brazen Cold War-style killing triggered a bitter diplomatic row between the previously friendly Asian nations, which have expelled each other’s ambassador and refused to let their citizens leave.
North Korea has never confirmed the identity of the dead man, but has denounced the Malaysian investigation as an attempt to smear the secretive regime, insisting that he most likely died of a heart attack.
Expelled North Korean ambassador Kang Chol slammed what he called a “pre-targeted investigation by the Malaysian police” on Monday, just before leaving the country.
Pyongyang retaliated by formally expelling his Malaysian counterpart, who was already back in Kuala Lumpur for consultations.
Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday urged Malaysians to pray for the safe return of nine compatriots barred from leaving North Korea.
Three Malaysian embassy staff and six family members remain stuck in Pyongyang after North Korea barred Malaysians from leaving the country on Tuesday, prompting a tit-for-tat move by Malaysia.
Two Malaysians working for the UN World Food Programme were permitted to leave North Korea on Thursday.
South Korea has blamed Pyongyang for the assassination and Malaysian police are seeking seven North Korean suspects, four of whom left Malaysia on the day of the murder.
The Malaysian police chief has said he believes the other three are hiding in North Korea’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Two women – one Vietnamese and one Indonesian – have been arrested and charged with the murder. Airport CCTV footage shows them approaching the victim and apparently smearing his face with a piece of cloth.