The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been murdered in Malaysia, reportedly by two unidentified female assassins using poisoned needles or spray.
Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of dictator, was known to spend much of his time outside the country and had recently spoken out against his family’s dynastic control over the communist state.
In a statement, Malaysian police said the dead man, aged 46, held a passport under the name Kim Chol.
Kim Jong Nam has been known in the past the use fake travel documents.
Police spokesman Fadzil Ahmat said the cause of Kim’s death was not yet known, and a postmortem would be carried out soon.
“So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are looking at a few possibilities to get leads,” Fadzil told Reuters.
According to Fadzil, Kim had been planning to travel to Macau on Monday when he fell ill at Kuala Lumpur Airport (KLIA).
“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.”
Kim was taken to an airport clinic where he continued to feel ill, so it was decided to take him to hospital. He died in the ambulance on the way to Putrajaya Hospital.
South Korea’s Chosun TV has reported that Kim had been poisoned with a needle by two female North Korean operatives who fled in a taxi.
These details have not be confirmed by any official source.
“We don’t know if there was a cloth or needles; the receptionist said someone grabbed his face, and he suddenly felt dizzy,” police spokesman Fadzil said.
Malaysia is one of a dwindling number of countries that maintains friendly relations with North Korea, which is under tightening global sanctions over its nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, the latest of which took place on Sunday. (Read our report here.)
Malaysians and North Koreans can visit each other’s country without visas.
Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un are both sons of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011, but they had different mothers.
Kim Jong Nam did not attend his father’s funeral.
Kim Jong Nam was believed to be close to his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was the country’s second most powerful man before being executed on Kim Jong Un’s orders in 2013.
In an bizarre incident in 2001, Kim Jong Nam was caught at Tokyo’s Narita Airport travelling on a forged Dominican Republic passport, saying he wanted to visit Disneyland in Tokyo.
He was known to be a frequent traveller to Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.
Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Nam had occasionally been the subject of speculation that he could replace his younger half-brother, the country’s third-generation leader.
“Loyalists may have wanted to get rid of him,” he said, despite Kim Jong Nam insisting that he had no interest in leading his country.
“Personally, I am against third-generation succession,” he told Japan’s Asahi TV in 2010. “I hope my younger brother will do his best for the sake of North Koreans’ prosperous lives.”
According to a report in the Daily Mail, an earlier attempt had been made on his life in 2011. While he was visiting Macau, a bloody shootout between his bodyguards and unknown assailants ensued, but he managed to escape with his life.
There has also been widespread speculation that Kim Jong-un felt threatened by his younger half-brother and had been planning to have him killed for some time.
His cousin, Lee Han-young, who defected to South Korea through Switzerland in 1982, was shot and killed by North Korean agents in Seoul in 1997, according to South Korean sources.