Two poison-slinging female North Korean agents have reportedly assassinated Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of dictator Kim Jong-un.
Sky News quotes numerous reports from South Korean media and Malaysian officials claiming the women killed Kim with either poison needles or a toxic spray. The Financial Times cites a statement from Malaysian police that he was “assaulted by a woman who covered his face with a cloth laced with liquid.”
He evidently survived long enough to ask for medical assistance and died on his way to the hospital. His assailants are said to have fled the scene in a taxicab and are still at large.
Malaysian officials said Kim, 45, was on his way to catch a plane to Macau when he was killed, traveling under the name “Kim Chol.”
This death seems like a suitably bizarre ending to the weird saga of Kim Jong-nam’s life as heir to the deliriously insane ruling family of North Korea. As the older son of Kim Jong Il, observers originally saw him as the likely successor to the throne, but he fell into disfavor after he was caught trying to visit Tokyo Disneyland with a false passport.
The Associated Press notes that Kim Jong-un has killed or purged real and perceived rivals in a “reign of terror” to consolidate power, notably including General Jang Song-taek, who was Kim Jong-nam’s uncle.
Jang was accused of “corruption, womanizing, gambling, and taking drugs,” not to mention failing to applaud with sufficient enthusiasm at a ceremony honoring Kim Jong-un, seeking to devalue North Korea’s currency, and plotting to overthrow the government. That seemed like a very ambitious agenda for someone who spent so much of his time womanizing, gambling, and taking drugs.
He was executed in 2013 with an anti-aircraft gun. Before he died, he was forced to watch his two top deputies die the same way and fainted during the spectacle. Some analysts thought his death was meant as a gesture of defiance to China, where Jang was a popular figure. China has also been involved in Kim Jong-nam’s life as an exile.
The AP points out that North Korea has a “history of dispatching spies to kill high-level defectors critical of its system,” and, in fact, has made previous efforts to kill Kim Jong-nam. Mark Tokola of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington is quoted speculating that he was assassinated because too many North Koreans might have seen him as a legitimate replacement for his half-brother. (Beijing might have begun thinking along the same lines, as Kim Jong-un went further off the rails over the past few years.)
The Financial Times relates speculation from Youngshik Bong of Yonsei University in Seoul that Kim Jong-nam’s death was “the final touch in consolidating power” for Kim Jong-un, who now has “absolute control over every nook and cranny of the North Korean system.” Also, with both Kim Jong-nam and Jang Sung-taek dead, China has been effectively deprived of eyes, ears, and a voice in Pyongyang.
The People’s Daily of China reports that North Korea’s embassy has requested Kim Jong-nam’s body, but the Malaysian police said a post-mortem was necessary first.