“LOL”: Assassins take out half-brother of North Korean leader

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Illustration by Terra DeHart

Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia on Monday, Feb. 13. He reportedly died in route to Kuala Lumpur Hospital.

Currently, Malaysian police have arrested four people, one each from Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and North Korea in connection with the assassination. As the police try to piece together the attack, many experts, including the South Korean government, have all pointed fingers at Kim Jong-un.

Lee Byung-ho, the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, told the National Assembly that since Kim Jong-un ascended to power in 2011 there has been a standing assassination order for Jong-nam, with Jong-nam even penning a letter to his half-brother in 2012 begging for his life and asking Jong-un to withdraw the assassination order.

Jong-nam was the estranged half-brother of Jong-un and posed the greatest threat to his rule. While Jong-nam was the presumed heir to North Korea, he was exiled by his father, Kim Jong-Il, following an embarrassing attempt to enter Japan on a forged Dominican Republic passport. He split his time between Macau, Beijing, and Singapore, reportedly having families in both Macau and Beijing with various girlfriends in Singapore and Malaysia.

It is widely speculated, according to the Japan Times and the South Korean National Intelligence Service, that Beijing was keeping him safe to use as a replacement for Kim Jong-un to keep North Korea stable, yet have a friendly leader in power should anything happen to the North Korean dictator.

The assassination of Kim Jong-nam has been likened to a spy script by the United Kingdom news outlet, The Independent. The two women from Indonesia and Vietnam, one wearing a shirt that boldly read “LOL”, both told police that they believed to have been taking part in a prank. They said they were approached by a man at a Kuala Lumpur nightclub who offered them each $100. They practiced at the airport three times prior to targeting Jong-nam, the difference here being the cloth used on Jong-nam was covered in poison rather than water.

Malaysian police have conducted an autopsy and have demanded DNA from the Kim family to identify the body, but Pyongyang vehemently denounced the autopsy and said they will seek to return the body to North Korea.

Adding more credibility to Pyongyang’s hand in the assassination, the Malaysian police are working with Interpol to locate four North Koreans who flew out of the country the same day of Jong-nam’s death. If Pyongyang is behind the death of Jong-nam, Jong-un seems willing to antagonize China to further consolidate his power.

Further illustrating China’s increasing frustrations, Beijing halted all imports of North Korean coal, a vital lifeline to the isolated regime according to The New York Times. While the Malaysian police continue to work with their South Korean counterparts to identify the motive behind the assassination, further evidence of North Korean involvement will continue to antagonize the few remaining allies the secluded country has left.

As the story continues to develop, Malaysian police are seeking to question a senior diplomat at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur and an employee from Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned airline. Mr. Khalid, the Kuala Lumpur police chief, has also come out to comment against the women’s narrative that they had no idea they knew what they were doing.

Rather, Mr. Khalid asserts, according to The New York Times, that they knew full well what they were doing and were likely trained by the four North Korean men who had fled the country.

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