Lawmakers in South Korea on Monday accused North Korea of masterminding the murder of dictator Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia. Meanwhile, an Indonesian official revived the theory that the killers were innocent women duped into poisoning the victim.
South Korean lawmakers said their intelligence service has determined four officials of the North Korean state security ministry and two officials of the foreign ministry are among the suspects wanted for questioning in Kim Jong-nam’s death, according to Fox News.
“Our National Intelligence Service told me that North Korea’s General Bureau of Espionage was responsible for the terrorism and the assassination of Kim Jong Nam but what Malaysian authorities discovered is that it was North Korea’s National Security Agency that took the lead,” said the chairman of South Korea’s legislative intelligence committee, Lee Cheol-woo, quoted by NBC News.
“Since it was the North Korean National Security Agency as well as its Foreign Ministry, who were behind the terrorism, we can say that it was North Korea’s state-led terrorism,” said Lee.
Malaysia has not formally accused North Korea’s government of orchestrating the attack, although Malaysian police have said four men wanted for supplying the killers with poison were North Koreans who have returned home to evade capture. Police raided a condominium in Kuala Lumpur allegedly used by the four men and seized a suspicious substance that is currently undergoing chemical tests. North Korea denies it ordered the killing of its ruler’s half-brother.
CNN reports that one of the two women held for the death of Kim Jong-nam is claiming innocence, stating that she believed she was rubbing baby oil on his face as part of a prank. The woman, Siti Aisyah, is an Indonesian citizen. She made her claim to Andreano Erwin, Indonesian deputy ambassador to Malaysia, who reports that she claims to have been paid the equivalent of $90 U.S. by people she thought were “Japanese or Koreans.”
Aisyah’s aunt backed up her claim of being hired to work as a “comedian” for what she believed was a hidden-camera TV show, saying it would be “impossible for such a tiny person like her to do such a crime if she was not manipulated.”
The other woman arrested for the attack, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, presented a similar account to Vietnamese officials over the weekend.
However, Malaysian police have adamantly insisted the women were willing and trained agents in the plot, describing some of their earlier activities as practice runs for the assassination. The murder weapon was literally a weapon of mass destruction, VX nerve agent, according to Malaysian authorities who argue that untrained dupes who thought they were handling baby oil would never have been able to deploy such a deadly substance without killing themselves.
One of the women did become violently ill after Kim Jong-nam’s fatal exposure, according to police statements, and the BBC notes that liquid VX is “clear, amber-colored, oily, tasteless, and odorless,” so a small but fatal dose could plausibly have been hidden in hand soap or baby oil.
The New York Times‘s account of South Korea’s intelligence report describes Aisyah and Doan being “hired” for the Kim assassination by different North Korean state security agents. One of those agents is now in the custody of Malaysian police, while another remains at large in Malaysia.
A data point in the women’s favor comes from The Star Online, which reports that Siti Aisyah “had a wild night out with her friends to celebrate her pending success as an Internet celebrity” the day before Kim’s murder.
The report quotes a China Press interview with a close friend who spoke of holding a February 12 birthday party at a Kuala Lumpur nightclub for Aisyah, who was born on February 11.
The friend was convinced Aisyah had been “framed,” describing her as “a very simple person” who hoped to “one day break into the entertainment industry.” She also displayed a video in which Aisyah “laughed and covered her face shyly when her friends commented that she was going to be a ‘big star.'”
South Korea’s intelligence service also informed legislators that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has executed five senior officials of the State Security Ministry and placed the former chief of his secret police, General Kim Won-hong, in an effort to consolidate power. The five dead officials were reportedly executed with anti-aircraft guns, which is the same fate that befell Kim Jong-nam’s uncle Jang Song-thaek in 2013.