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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and his half brother, Kim Jong Nam.   © Kyodo
Politics

Man killed in Malaysia identified as Kim Jong Un's half brother

South Korea confirms victim is Kim Jong Nam

KENICHI YAMADA and WATARU YOSHIDA, Nikkei staff writers | North Korea

SEOUL/SINGAPORE -- Malaysian police have confirmed that the North Korean man killed Monday in Malaysia was Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Bernama state news agency reports.

A North Korean man in his 40s died suddenly at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, an officer from the police division overseeing the airport told The Nikkei.

The man was scheduled to fly to Macau on Monday morning, according to Bernama. "While waiting for the flight, a woman came from behind and covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid," the news agency quoted a police official as saying. The man's eyes suffered burns, and he sought help from airport staff, the official said, adding that the man was taken to a hospital and confirmed dead.

Two women were responsible for Kim's death, according to a South Korean source. Reports said they killed him via poisoned needle before fleeing in a taxi. They are suspected to have been North Korean agents.

A South Korean official also confirmed Kim's death through the Malaysian government. Seoul will issue a statement as early as Wednesday morning, according to local news channel YTN.

Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son of North Korea's previous leader, Kim Jong Il, and was once considered the favorite to succeed his father. He apparently fell out of the running after being detained in Tokyo in 2001 for trying to enter Japan with a fake passport, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

He is said to have been living mostly in Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia recently. He was upset when his half brother was picked over him to rule North Korea but had kept mostly silent on politics since Kim Jong Un actually took power.

The North Korean ruler continues to provoke the international community with such acts as launching a new medium-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday. But in a New Year's speech, Kim Jong Un said he had "spent the past year feeling anxious and remorseful for the lack of my ability," painting himself as tough on enemies but humble before the people.

Though whether he was involved in his half brother's death remains unclear, South Korean reports claim that he eliminated a potential threat. Kim Jong Nam was close to Jang Song Thaek, a key official executed in 2013. The two were once rumored to have plotted to overthrow Kim Jong Un with China's help.

A spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry said Wednesday that it is certain that the man who died in the attack at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday was Kim Jong Nam, 45, but declined to give further details.

The case is currently under investigation, and more details should become available after the governments of the countries involved make announcements, the spokesman said, adding that the ministry is working in close cooperation with the Malaysian government.

The spokesman also said the authorities will review personal protection arrangements for North Korean defectors.

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