Half-brother of North Korean leader dies after chemical ‘attack’

Kim Jong Nam
Kim Jong Nam

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been assassinated at an airport in Kuala Lumpur, according to Malaysian officials.

Kim Jong Nam told medical workers he had been attacked with a chemical spray at the airport. He was taken to the airport clinic but died on the way to hospital.

The 46-year-old was attacked on Monday in the shopping concourse at the airport and had not gone through immigration yet for his flight to Macau, said the senior government official.

Kim Jong Nam was estranged from his younger brother, the North Korean leader.

He had been tipped by outsiders to succeed their dictator father, but reportedly fell out of favour when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport in 2001.

He is believed to have been living recently in Macau, Singapore and Malaysia.

Multiple South Korean media reports said Kim Jong Nam was killed by two women. TV Chosun, citing unidentified “multiple government sources”, said the women were believed to be North Korean agents who fled in a taxi.

Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un have the same father, late dictator Kim Jong Il, but different mothers.

Since taking power in late 2011, Kim Jong Un has executed or purged a series of high-level government officials in what the South Korean government has described as a “reign of terror”.

The most spectacular was the 2013 execution by anti-aircraft fire of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, once considered the country’s second most powerful man.

Seoul has said North Korea also executed a vice premier for education last year for unspecified anti-revolutionary acts, and a defence minister in 2015 for complaining and sleeping during a meeting.

Pyongyang has a history of dispatching spies to kill high-level defectors critical of its system.

In 1997, a nephew of one of Kim Jong Il’s former wives was killed outside a Seoul apartment 15 years after she defected. Officials never caught the assailants but believe they were North Korean agents.

Mark Tokola, vice president at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, said it would be surprising if Kim Jong Nam was not killed on the orders of his brother.

“It seems probable that the motivation for the murder was a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong Un, which may be a well-placed paranoia,” Mr Tokola wrote.

Although there was scant evidence that Kim Jong Nam was plotting against the North Korean leader, he provided an alternative for North Koreans who would want to depose his brother.