Kim Jong-Un / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR
The oldest half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was murdered in Malaysia on Monday, according to a South Korean government official.
Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong Il, had lived outside the country for years. The official, who asked not to be identified, citing government policy, said poison was involved in his death, but provided no other details.
Two unidentified women killed Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur’s airport with a poison needle before fleeing in a taxi, YTN television station reported, citing a government source. Malaysia’s police didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kim Jong Nam, aged in his mid 40s, fell out of favor with his father after he was caught trying to enter Japan using a fake Dominican Republic passport in 2001, according to Japanese reporter Yoji Gomi, who wrote a book about him in 2012. Kim Jong Nam had been critical of Kim Jong Un, reportedly saying in 2012 that he “ won’t last long” because of his youth and inexperience. The two brothers have different mothers.
News of the murder comes two days after Kim Jong Un test-fired a ballistic missile as part of efforts to develop North Korea’s nuclear-weapons capability. The provocation drew a rebuke from the United Nations Security Council, with U.S. President Donald Trump vowing to deal with the threat “ very strongly.”
North Korea remains largely cut off from the world, with information tightly controlled by the government. Kim has carried out a series of executions since taking power in 2011, the most high profile of which was the 2013 killing of his uncle and one-time deputy Jang Song Thaek.
If Kim Jong Nam was killed by a North Korean spy, it indicates that Kim Jong Un felt a sense of paranoia about his own future and wanted to remove any potential successors, according to Namkoong Young, who has been teaching inter-Korean politics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies for more than 25 years.
“Jong Nam has been in exile for years away from North’s politics for a long time but he is still the eldest son of Kim Jong Il,” Namkoong said. “And if there was any move or plan by some elite there to have him replace Jong Un, he probably should be removed.”
A spokesperson for South Korea’s unification ministry declined to comment. Malaysia’s foreign ministry is still waiting for information from the police on the identity of the deceased man, a spokeswoman said via text message. The death is under the purview of the home affairs ministry, she said.
Kim Jong Un had about 50 officials executed in 2014 on charges ranging from graft to watching South Korean soap operas. Two senior officials were executed with an anti-aircraft gun in August last year on Kim’s orders, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, citing people it did not identify.