The Assassination of Kim Jong Nam: An Opportunity for the International Community to Work Together
Photo Credit: AP
By Tai Wei Lim

The Assassination of Kim Jong Nam: An Opportunity for the International Community to Work Together

Feb. 17, 2017  |     |  0 comments

It is an important caveat in analyzing North Korean developments that any analyses are speculative due to the highly secretive nature of the regime. One cannot say with certainty if any facts or evidence is un-mitigatingly accurate. When an assassination of a high-profile member of the ruling elite family occurs, it opens itself to all forms of speculation and suspicion.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam was apparently assassinated at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport by female assassins (most international media mentioned there were two of them). He was 46 years old. Other international media sources reported a team of six individuals — two females and four males — and they were apparently hired independently so they did not know one another before the assassination event. All the suspects are said to be residing in Kuala Lumpur. The local Malaysian media reported that one woman distracted Kim while the other put him in a chokehold and delivered the toxin. The apparent defense put up by both women after their arrests was that they thought it was a prank job for a reality show, according to the international media.


The identity of the victim was ultimately resolved by the confirmation from the North Korean embassy in Malaysia. Kim Jong Nam was named Kim Chul in his immigration documentation. North Korea has reportedly asked for custody of his body and Malaysia has reportedly said they would comply after the autopsy, as reported in the international media. Kim was apparently boarding a flight to Macau where he holds residence to visit his family. Before coming to Southeast Asia, he lived in Macau and China. Kim apparently enjoys gambling, according to some accounts, and apparently opted for a budget airline this time to fly back to Macau.


Born in 1971, Kim was the son of previous North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s doted female companion, Song Hye Rim. Kim Jong Nam was the eldest of all of Kim Jong Il’s offspring. Kim Jong Un, the current unchallenged leader of North Korea, is the son of Kim Jong Il’s other lady companion, Ko Yong Hui. Jong Nam’s death was not reported in the North Korean state media and the country is gearing up to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong Il in a big way.


In 2011, Jong Nam apparently lost the opportunity to become North Korea’s next leader when he used a false passport in an attempt to enter Tokyo Disneyland. At that time, he had also used a fake Dominican Republic passport in an attempt to enter Japan. His helper and four year old son were reportedly on the Tokyo Disneyland trip. The Japanese immigration authorities sent Jong Nam back to Pyongyang via Beijing. His father was angry with him, and eventually Jong Nam appeared to have not attended his father’s funeral. During their youth, the two sons were kept apart following the North Korean protocol of not mixing kids who are possible candidates for grooming to become possible leaders. Jong Nam was said to be a reformist. Both Jong Nam and Jong Un were brought up and educated in the West at some point of time. Jong Nam apparently preferred a comparatively more liberal environment.

This was apparently the second attempt to assassinate Jong Nam, with the first failed attempt having occurred in Macau.

Currently, no one is able to say authoritatively who was involved, what the motivation was, and the agenda in assassinating the victim. Even the method of assassination is ambiguous with initial speculation focused on poisoning, with the narrative later changing to the use of poisoned needles and a spray being said to be the methodology. Another version said he was poisoned by a textile held over Kim’s mouth. Yet another version in the international media describes one of the female assassins spraying Kim while the other held a cloth to his face for ten seconds. It remains unclear and uncertain which version is the most accurate.


The attack apparently lasted only seconds. Dizziness and headaches were the first symptoms. He was seated in a wheelchair and fell unconscious. Other international media reports mentioned that Jong Nam died within a matter of minutes. The toxin by implication must have been extremely lethal with a fast reaction. Kim perished on the way to the hospital from the airport. One of the assassins apparently threw away a black-colored glove on the way to escape in a taxi. The use of the black glove is speculated by the international media to protect the assassin against the toxin.


The motivation for the attack is equally ambiguous. There are all sorts of speculations. It remains unclear at the moment, and one best waits for more evidence to present themselves before analyses or conclusions can be made. Kim Jong Nam appeared to have made some comments about the North Korean leadership back in 2012 with Japanese reporter Yoji Gomi. Jong Nam was also close to his uncle. Jong Nam’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, an ally seen close to Jong Nam (and who reportedly brought up Jong Nam) and also China, was executed for treason in 2013. This was apparently the second attempt to assassinate Jong Nam, with the first failed attempt having occurred in Macau.


As of February 16, 2017, two suspects had been taken into custody by the Malaysian police. Even the boyfriend of one of the suspects was taken in for questioning. According to Malaysian police sources, it was the boyfriend who led the authorities to the second suspect who had been remanded. The second suspect was said to be carrying an Indonesian passport and the Indonesian authorities have confirmed she is one of their nationals. The first lady suspect was carrying a Vietnamese passport. The Vietnamese are now working closely with the Malaysian authorities to determine her identity.


The incident has augmented intra-ASEAN cooperation in transnational crime. The Indonesian suspect is known to be Siti Aishah and the other woman is alleged Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong (as indicated in her passport, pending authenticity checks). Siti is said to be working as a nightclub hostess, according to the international media, and apparently needed funding. She is apparently a divorcee who has a son that does not live with her, and she worked as a helper in Indonesia before moving to Malaysia with her now-divorced husband, according to the international media.


Whatever the motivation was, this presents a chance for the international community to work together to prevent transnational assassinations and murders. It is a chance not just for the great powers with an interest in North Korea (US, China, Japan, Russia), but also the middle powers (South Korea and Australia) and the international organizations (ASEAN), as well as North Korea, to work together in terms of the investigation, and to foster greater understanding between nations in transnational crime prevention. It is also a good opportunity for the new US administration, a Chinese strongman leadership making smooth transitions to power, a re-invigorated strong Japanese Prime Minister and his administration, as well as the concerned South Korean authorities, to work together on a common issue of challenge.

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