Kim Jong-nam’s Killing: A Geopolitical Whodunit
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The two young women were what South Korean intelligence calls “lizard’s tails,” expendable assets to be cast off after an operation.
Guided by North Korean agents, they practiced at malls in Kuala Lumpur, then set their sights on the target: the estranged elder brother of North Korea’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-un.
在朝鲜特工的指引下，她们在吉隆坡的商场里练习，然后瞄准了目标：难以捉摸的朝鲜领导人金正恩(Kim Jong-un)不相往来的哥哥——金正男(Kim Jong-nam)。
With hands doused with toxic liquid, they rubbed the face of their victim, who was waiting to check in for a flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Minutes later, their target died on the way to a hospital. The two women washed their hands and fled.
The suspected assassins were swiftly taken into custody as circumstantial evidence mounted that North Korea was responsible for the attack.
The very public killing of Mr. Kim appears to be another remarkable episode in the annals of bizarre North Korean behavior, a whodunit with geopolitical implications. Speculation swirled that the victim, Kim Jong-nam, had been killed to remove him from the line of succession in North Korea.
In the days since the killing was caught on video, the drama has had an ever-expanding and multinational cast of characters — assassins from Indonesia and Vietnam, one of whom was apparently wearing a white shirt emblazoned with the letters LOL; a Malaysian boyfriend; and suspected North Korean agents.
On Wednesday, Malaysia’s police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said a senior diplomat at the North Korean Embassy and an employee of the North Korean state-owned airline, Air Koryo, were also wanted for questioning. A seventh North Korean, who was not identified, was also being sought. Mr. Khalid also said that extra police officers had been sent to the morgue where Mr. Kim’s body was being kept after an attempt to break into the facility was detected.
周三，马来西亚警察总长卡立德·阿布·巴卡(Khalid Abu Bakar)表示，朝鲜大使馆的一名高级外交官和朝鲜国营航空公司高丽航空(Air Koryo)的一名员工也被要求接受审问。警方还在寻找第七个未指明身份的朝鲜人。卡立德还表示，在发现有人企图闯入保存金正男尸体的太平间之后，警方在那里加派了警力。
North Korea has refused to even acknowledge that the dead man was Kim Jong-nam and has accused Malaysia of carrying out a politically motivated investigation to placate South Korea and the United States.
North Korea has nonetheless demanded that the body be sent to there and, in a statement on Wednesday, the North Korean Embassy said the two women were innocent and should be freed.
If the women really had poison on their hands, the embassy statement said, “then how is it possible that these female suspects could still be alive?”
One possible theory is that each woman used a single chemical that became lethal only when mixed with another. However, Malaysian police said the substance, or substances, used in the attack was still unknown.
North Korea has denied any involvement in the killing, which is likely to anger Beijing, long seen as a protector of Kim Jong-nam. Mr. Kim’s 33-year-old half brother, who has ordered the execution of scores of senior officials, including at least one disfavored relative.
Malaysian authorities say the two women arrested, Doan Thi Huong, 28, and Siti Aisyah, 25, were recruited, trained and equipped by four North Koreans, who have since fled to their home country.
马来西亚当局称，被逮捕的两名女子——28岁的段氏香（Doan Thi Huong，音）和25岁的西蒂·艾莎(Siti Aishah)——是由四名朝鲜人招募、训练和提供装备的。这四人在事件发生后便逃回了朝鲜。
If the attack was a plot by North Korea, it would not be the first time it had tried to kill Kim Jong-nam.
In 2010, according to South Korean investigators, a North Korean agent based in China received a special order from Pyongyang: “terminate” Kim Jong-nam and bring his body to the North.
The agent, Kim Young-soo, was told that Kim Jong-nam was going to travel to China from Singapore, where he was then living. The agent’s boss gave him a bundle of cash and ordered him to bribe a taxi driver to run over Mr. Kim in a fake traffic accident.
The plot was scrapped when Mr. Kim failed to arrive as planned. But it came to light in 2012, when the agent was caught entering South Korea and confessed under interrogation.
Since 2011, when Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as North Korea’s ruler, there has been a standing order to assassinate his half brother, South Korean intelligence officials said last week. There was another assassination attempt against him in 2012.
Mr. Kim was so afraid that he begged for his life in a letter to his half brother in 2012.
“Please withdraw the order to punish me and my family,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying in the letter. “We have nowhere to hide. The only way to escape is to choose suicide.”
A Troubled Family
The Kim family, which has ruled North Korea since its founding in 1948, has presided over a Shakespearean nest of internecine plots and family intrigue, with rival relatives sent into exile and occasional bloody purges to kill off anyone of questionable loyalty and set an example for others.
Kim Jong-nam was an early dropout in the Kim dynasty’s third-generation power struggle. Sidelined from the race to succeed his father since the 1970s, when his mother was abandoned by his father, he had been effectively shut out of power, and shut off from his father, since he was a teenager. South Korean officials say he never met his half brother, Kim Jong-un.
The final straw for Kim Jong-nam was when he was caught entering Japan on a false Dominican Republic passport in 2001, embarrassing the family. He told Japanese officials that he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
Mr. Kim lived in exile, mostly in Macau, but enjoyed the affluent life of a globe-trotting playboy, sometimes traveling with a female bodyguard. While his father was still alive, the government in Pyongyang sent him cash allowances.
His uncle, Jang Song-thaek, became a father figure and his main connection to his country. South Korean officials said Mr. Kim was thought to have used that connection to conduct business for himself, like handling contracts involving North Korean minerals.
Mr. Kim often visited Kuala Lumpur, where Mr. Jang’s nephew, Jang Yong-chol, served as North Korean ambassador until 2013.
Mr. Kim sometimes stayed at an embassy guesthouse and sometimes at five-star hotels, according to Steve Hwang, a restaurant owner who became a friend.
Mr. Kim would often come to the restaurant, Koryo-Won, with his wife, dressed casually and always wearing a baseball cap. A bodyguard would sit outside in the mall, visible through the window.
“He was very humble, very friendly, a very nice guy,” Mr. Hwang said.
Mr. Kim never gave his name, but Mr. Hwang, who is from South Korea and has family in the North, recognized him. To be certain, he said he collected Mr. Kim’s dishes after a meal and sent them to the South Korean Embassy for fingerprint and DNA analysis, he said. The word came back that it was indeed Mr. Kim.
When Kim Jong-un took power, he cut off his half brother’s allowance. In 2013, he executed their uncle, Mr. Jang, on charges of corruption and sedition. Mr. Jang’s nephew, the ambassador, was recalled the same year and is thought to have been executed.
Kim Jong-un may have been angered by reports that his half brother had once considered defecting to South Korea. After Kim Jong-nam’s assassination, some defectors claimed that he had been asked to serve as head of a government in exile. But Kim Jong-nam never formally proposed to defect, according to South Korean officials, and he had told reporters that he had no interest in politics, although he also criticized the dynastic succession in Pyongyang.
When Mr. Kim arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 6, he was using a diplomatic passport with the name Kim Chol.
By then, it appears, the plot against him was already underway.
Four North Korean men accused of organizing the attack had begun arriving on Jan. 31, nearly a week before Mr. Kim, the police say. Each one landed on a different day. The last one arrived Feb. 7, a day after Mr. Kim.
Unlike most countries, Malaysia allows North Koreans to enter without a visa and makes it relatively easy for them to work. North Koreans have established a number of businesses in Malaysia to export products to other parts of the world and earn foreign currency to send home.
The four North Korean conspirators apparently recruited Ms. Doan and Ms. Siti, from entertainment establishments. Ms. Siti worked as a “spa masseuse,” the police say, and Ms. Doan as an “entertainment outlet employee.”
Ms. Doan grew up in a small farming village in Vietnam about three hours south of Hanoi and studied pharmacy at a community college. Ms. Siti, grew up in a farming village east of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. She quit school after sixth grade, was married at 16 and divorced at 20, before she left for Malaysia.
There were reports that the women were duped, that they had been told they were participating in a prank. Indonesian officials said they thought Ms. Siti was tricked into thinking that she was part of a comedy video involving spraying liquid onto unwitting victims in public.
But Mr. Khalid, the police chief, said they knew what they were doing. The women had practiced the attack at two malls, he said.
“We strongly believe it is a planned thing and that they are being trained to do that,” he said. “It is not just shooting movies or a play thing. No way.”
The police say the plotters also brought in Ri Jong Chol, a North Korean who had been living and working in Kuala Lumpur since at least August. He was almost certainly a government agent, according to Thae Yong-ho, a North Korean diplomat who defected to the South last summer, because he was allowed to live with his family abroad.
警方称密谋者还拉入了至少从8月就开始在吉隆坡生活和工作的朝鲜人李正哲(Ri Jong Chol)。据去年夏天逃至韩国的朝鲜外交官泰勇浩（Thae Yong-ho，音）称，李正哲几乎肯定是政府特工，因为他能够和家人一起生活在国外。
On the morning of Feb. 13, Mr. Kim went to the airport to catch his flight home.
Security videos show him entering the departure hall at Terminal 2 carrying a shoulder bag, checking the departure board and walking toward the check-in counter for AirAsia, a budget airline.
After his encounter with the women, Mr. Kim approached airport staff and security officers, waving his hands toward his face repeatedly as he told them of the attack. They walked with him to the airport clinic one level down.
Within minutes, he was in an ambulance, but by then the poison was taking effect. He was dead before he reached the hospital, the police said.
His last words were, “Very painful, very painful. I was sprayed liquid,” China Press, a Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper, reported.
The police say the four North Korean conspirators watched the attack unfold. Soon after, they passed through immigration, had their passports stamped and left the country before the authorities realized Mr. Kim had been murdered. All are now believed to be in North Korea.
Mr. Hwang said Mr. Kim had stopped coming to his restaurant around 2014, after his uncle’s execution, and may have fallen on lean times — which may explain why he had no bodyguards last week as he prepared to fly home on a budget carrier.
Mr. Hwang didn’t see him during his final trip to Kuala Lumpur and was surprised by his appearance in the security video. He was wearing a blazer, instead of his usual T-shirt, and no hat.
It was the first time Mr. Hwang saw that he was bald.
“Nobody could protect him,” he said.