|Assassination of Kim Jong-nam|
|Location||Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, Malaysia|
|Date||13 February 2017|
|Weapons||VX nerve agent|
The assassination of Kim Jong-nam (Chosŏn'gŭl: 김정남; Hancha: 金正男) occurred on 13 February 2017 when two women attacked him with VX nerve agent, a lethal chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. Kim was the eldest son of deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the half-brother of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The assassination is under investigation but is widely believed to have been ordered by the North Korean government.
On 13 February 2017 at about 9am, Kim was attacked by two women with VX nerve agent near to an airport self check-in kiosk at level 3, departure hall in KLIA 2, the low-cost carrier terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia during his return trip to Macau. VX is a chemical weapon banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. North Korea, which has not ratified the Convention, is suspected of holding a stockpile.
Malaysian police said that Kim had alerted an airport receptionist, saying "someone had grabbed him from behind and splashed a liquid on his face" and that a woman "covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid". Kim was treated at the hospital in the Menara Medical Clinic by nurse Rabiatul Adawiyah Mohd Sofi and Dr. Nik Mohd Adzrul Ariff Raja Azlan, who later testified that he was sweaty, in pain, and unresponsive. At the clinic, Kim was given 1mg of atropine, and also adrenaline. Kim required tracheal intubation, and the saliva, vomit and blood in his mouth needed to be suctioned out.
A resuscitation device was strapped to Kim's face, and he was then transported by stretcher through the authorized-personnel-only area of the airport to reach an ambulance. Kim died while being transferred from the airport to the Putrajaya Hospital.
As he was travelling under the pseudonym "Kim Chol", Malaysian officials did not immediately formally confirm that Kim Jong-nam was the man killed. Kim's extensive Facebook usage under this pseudonym since at least 2010, and usage of commercial email services for communications, may have made it easier for North Korean agents to seek his whereabouts and track his movements. At the time of his death, Kim's backpack contained approximately $100,000 in cash, and he was carrying four North Korean passports, all bearing the name Kim Chol.
On 14 February Malaysian police arrested a 28-year-old Vietnamese woman named Đoàn Thị Hương at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in connection with the attack. Hương was identified through CCTV footage. On 16 February, a 25-year-old Indonesian woman named Siti Aisyah was arrested and identified as the second female suspect. Aisyah's boyfriend, a 26-year-old Malaysian named Muhammad Farid bin Jalaluddin,[nb 1] was also arrested on 16 February to assist in the investigation.
Hương told the police that she was instructed by four men who were travelling with them to spray Kim with an unidentified liquid while Aisyah held and covered his face with a handkerchief as part of a prank. She claimed that after she returned to look for the others, they had disappeared, and thus she decided to head back to the airport the next day.
The South Korean government accused the North Korean government of being the responsible party for conducting Kim Jong-nam's assassination, and drew a parallel with the execution of Kim Jong-un's own uncle and others. The government later held an emergency security council meeting in which they condemned the murder of Kim Jong-nam.
The acting President of South Korea, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said that if the murder of Kim Jong-nam was confirmed to be masterminded by North Korea, that would clearly depict the brutality and inhumanity of the Kim Jong-un regime.
An autopsy was conducted despite North Korean diplomats objecting to any such procedure on Kim's body. Malaysian officials later commented that the autopsy proceeded as the North Korean diplomats failed to submit a formal protest. A post-mortem on Kim was conducted on 15 February at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital mortuary in the presence of several North Korean officials, and concluded the following day, formally confirming the identity of Kim's body. The autopsy was conducted by pathologist Mohamad Shah Mahmood of Kuala Lumpur Hospital, who testified that Kim's lungs, brain, liver and spleen were affected by the poison. Chemical pathologist Nur Ashikin Othman[nb 2] testified that Kim's urine showed the affects of being exposed to the poison. Low levels of cholinesterase indicated that Jong-nam had been exposed to an insecticide or nerve agent. Forensic consultant Dr. Nurliza bte Abdullah testified that Jong-nam's pupil constriction, and the feces in his underwear, suggested he had been poisoned.
On 24 February, Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar announced that a post-mortem toxicology report had found traces of the nerve agent VX on Kim's face. According to experts, the use of VX gas may explain why two assailants were involved, because each assailant "could have wiped two or more precursors" in Kim's face. This is referred to as a binary chemical weapon. This method could ensure that the assailants were not themselves killed by the poison, which can be fatal in very small amounts; additionally, smuggling the chemical components into Malaysia separately could have helped avoid detection. Aisyah reported she vomited in the taxi afterward and has continued to feel unwell.
Chemical weapons experts Jean-Pascal Zanders and Richard Guthrie noted that the reported effects were not entirely consistent with the potency of VX – Jong-Nam was able to walk to the medical station without suffering spasms, paramedics were not affected, the assailants survived, and there were no other reports of injury even though the scene of the attack was not cleaned for over a week. VX degrades rapidly in storage and North Korea's supplies are believed to be several years old, which could explain the apparent weakness of the chemical.
On 10 March, police completed the autopsy, confirming that the body belonged to Kim Jong-nam based on DNA provided by his son Kim Han-sol, and the body was handed to the Ministry of Health for further action. The Health Ministry said they would then give Kim's family two to three weeks to claim his body, with the body having been embalmed to preserve it during the period. The family however declined to take the body and gave the Malaysian authorities permission to manage the remains. Over objections of Kim Han-sol, the body was flown to Pyongyang on 31 March. Kim's blazer, backpack and watch were initially submitted to a police chemistry department for analysis, but subsequently returned to officials from the North Korean embassy.
Following Malaysia's refusal to release the body immediately, North Korea's ambassador Kang Chol accused Malaysia of collaborating with the country's enemies over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. The ambassador said they would reject the outcome of the post-mortem conducted "on its citizen without permission" and perceived the decision as a "violation of human rights", and thus would lodge a complaint to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ambassador was summoned by the government of Malaysia on 20 February, while the Malaysian ambassador to North Korea was recalled.
The ambassador then responded that they cannot trust the investigation by Malaysian police, noting there had been no evidence of the cause of death even a week after the attack. He also proposed that North Korea and Malaysia should open a joint investigation together in order to prevent influence from South Korea which, he said, is trying to malign North Korea as the party responsible for the killing. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak responded to the ambassador that his country will be objective in the investigation and assured the North Korean side that they do not have reason to paint North Korea in a bad light while rejecting the request for joint investigation. On 22 February, Malaysian police said there was evidence of an attempted break-in at the mortuary where Kim's body was being held.
The North Korean government rejected all findings, accused the Malaysian police of "fabricating evidence" in collusion with South Korea and demanded the release of the three people being held in connection with the death.
On 28 February, the North Korean government dispatched a high level delegation to Malaysia. North Korea said the claim that VX nerve agent was used to kill one of its citizens is "absurd" and lacked scientific basis, portraying it as an allegation jointly made by the United States and South Korea to tarnish its image, adding that the death was caused by a "heart attack" as Kim Jong-nam has a record of heart disease. The North Koreans stressed that if it was indeed caused by the chemical it should be proven by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Malaysian police immediately rejected the North Korean claims. However, in a statement released by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, the country said it was already co-operating with OPCW.
Malaysia announced that from 6 March they will cancel visa-free entry for North Koreans, citing "security issues". On 4 March, the North Korean ambassador Kang Chol was declared "persona non grata" and asked to leave within 48 hours, with a similar move having been imposed by North Korea towards the Malaysian ambassador. The North Korean authorities also reacted on 7 March by barring all Malaysian citizens in North Korea from leaving. Malaysian authorities imposed reciprocal measures, prohibiting North Korean citizens from leaving Malaysia.
On 30 March, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that all Malaysians in North Korea as well as North Koreans in Malaysia would be allowed to return to their home countries after the receipt of a letter from Kim's family requesting his remains be returned to North Korea.
One of the suspects, Aisyah, had been in Malaysia at least a day before the attack, reportedly to celebrate her birthday with her friends. Siti Aisyah, a young friendly Muslim divorced mother worked as a spa masseuse in Kuala Lumpur. She regularly returned to Indonesia to meet her mother and son. She told her mother that she found a better job as an actress in prank video for the Chinese market. After Hương and Aisyah were arrested, they claimed they thought they were participating in a prank. According to both suspects, they were told to spray people in the vicinity with baby oil, one target being Kim Jong-nam. The pair were promised USD$100, but, losing contact with their handlers, they never received the money.
According to their lawyers, Hương was recruited in December 2016 in Hanoi, Vietnam, while Aisyah was recruited in January 2017 by a Malaysian scout working for the North Koreans. The women were handled by separate teams of North Korean men, who posed as being from Japan and China, one of the recruiters being Ri Ji-u. Since their recruitment, Aisyah had performed the prank on at least 10 occasions. She was flown to Phnom Penh to perform the prank three times with an offer of U$200, while Hương performed it four times in locations including the airport terminals and Mandarin Oriental hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian police retrieved a photo of "James" from Siti Aisyah's phone. He was later identified as Ri Ji-u. The police searched for him but he was already in the North Korean embassy.
On 19 February, Malaysian police named four more North Korean suspects. They were identified as Rhi Ji-hyon (aged 33), Hong Song-hac (34), O Jong-gil (55) and Ri Jae-nam (57), all of whom left Malaysia after the attack, and the Malaysian police requested help from Interpol and other relevant authorities in tracking them. According to an unnamed source, the four suspects flew to Jakarta, Dubai and Vladivostok before reaching Pyongyang. Three other male North Korean suspects were still in Malaysia: Ri Ji-u, who had lived in Malaysia for three years; Kim Uk-il, an employee in Air Koryo; Hyon Kwang-song, the second secretary at the North Korean embassy. These suspects had taken refuge in the North Korean embassy.
On 22 February, Malaysian police inspector-general Khalid Abu Bakar said that the killing was "a planned effort" and that the two women arrested had been trained to carry out the attack and had repeatedly rehearsed it together at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC). Khalid also alleged that the women apparently knew they were handling poisonous substances. That same day, an unnamed Malaysian man believed to be a chemist was picked up by police during a raid on a condominium where he then led police to another condominium where various chemicals were seized.
On 28 February, both women were charged with murder, which carries a mandatory death sentence. A lawyer for Hương requested a second autopsy as he doubted Malaysian expertise, calling for experts from Japan and Iraq as well pathologists from North Korea itself to be involved. The Malaysian police responded by telling the lawyer to appeal to the high court.
On 3 March, the only detained North Korean suspect, Ri Jong-chol, was released and deported due to lack of evidence. While in transit through China, he told the media that the Malaysian police threatened to hurt his family if he did not confess his involvement in the murder and said his arrest was part of a "conspiracy". Malaysian police strongly denied his allegation.
On 16 March, Interpol issued a red notice for the four North Korean suspects who had fled to Pyongyang. The three North Korean suspects, Ri Ji-u, Kim Uk-il and Hyon Kwang-song, who were holed up in the North Korean embassy in Malaysia, were released on 30 March and allowed to return home after investigators interviewed them and cleared them of any wrongdoing.
On 22 March, Yonhap News Agency released an information stating that Ri Ji-hyon, one of the four suspects whom left Malaysia after the attack (the man with a cap on the photo from the airport CCTV), is the son of former North Korean ambassador to Vietnam Ri Hong. From November 2009, he worked as a trainee diplomat in Hanoi for more than a year before becoming an interpreter for another few years. With his ability to converse fluently in Vietnamese language, he is suspected of having seduced and lured the Vietnamese national Hương into a fake TV prank, making her believe that he is a rich South Korean man. On the request of the Judicial Authorities of Malaysia, Interpol had published a red notice for Ri Ji-hyon for his involvement in the murder plot.
The murder trial of Siti Aisyah and Đoàn Thị Hương began on 2 October 2017 at the High Court in Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia, with both pleading not guilty. Judge Datuk Azmi Ariffin is presiding.
A Malaysian chemist, Raja Subramaniam, testified before the court that traces of the VX nerve agent thought to be used in the assassination were found on the two women. The testimony was the first evidence to provide a link between the defendants and the VX nerve agent. A pathologist Mohamad Shah Mahmood told the court that VX was the sole cause of death. According to Mohamad, based on a post-mortem report, toxicology tests found traces of six types of drugs (including a Viagra-type drug) in Kim's body that are used to treat diabetes, hypertension and gout, while the autopsy found no sign Kim had a heart attack as been alleged by North Korean authorities before. The pathologist explained that those drugs and its conditions would not have caused Kim's swift death and testimony showed Kim died within two hours of being attack, not within 20 minutes as earlier stated by Malaysia's health ministry, as well stating the fastest absorption of VX would have been through the eye mucus. Under cross-examination by both defence lawyers, Mohamad however acknowledged he had limited knowledge on the nerve agents in general and said he didn't know the amount of the poison that was used.
Another chemical pathologist, Nur Ashikin Othman, told the court that tests on Kim's blood showed a very low level of 344 units per litre of cholinesterase enzyme and said it could be caused by poison such as pesticide or nerve agent with blood tests on both defendants only found normal enzyme levels, although this does not conclusively show they were not exposed to VX as the women may have been in contact with the nerve agent at a low concentration or may have decontaminated themselves by washing their hands with soap or taken an antidote. Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital doctor Ranjini Sivaganabalan, a specialist in poisons, testified that VX may not be fatal in very low dosages and disagreed with an assertion that as little as 10 milligrams of VX would be lethal to humans while claiming that a person with VX on their hands may not be fully decontaminated by washing it off with soap and water. Toxicologist K. Sharmilah testified that vials of atropine, a drug used as an antidote to poisoning with nerve agents such as VX, were found in Kim Jong-nam's bag. On 8 October, the trial had to be moved to a high-security laboratory due to danger posed by the nerve agent-tainted clothing admitted into evidence.
Sepang/KLIA District senior investigating officer ASP Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz identified four other suspects – Mr. Chang, Mr. Y, James, and Hanamori (a.k.a. “Grandpa” and “Uncle”) – but did not state whether they were North Koreans or whether they were the four North Koreans that Malaysia issued the Interpol notices for. The men were not arrested because Malaysian police did not have sufficient information to identify or locate the suspects, according to investigating officer Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz and Deputy Public Prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin.
“there has been a standing order” to assassinate his half brother, Lee Byung-ho, the director of the South’s National Intelligence Service, said during a closed-door briefing at the National Assembly, according to lawmakers who attended it.“This is not a calculated action to remove Kim Jong-nam because he was a challenge to power per se, but rather reflected Kim Jong-un’s paranoia,” Mr. Lee was quoted as saying. Kim Jong-un wanted his half brother killed, Mr. Lee said, and there was an assassination attempt against him in 2012. Mr. Kim was so afraid of assassins 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.” (...)
Nur Asyikin Osman, a chemical pathologist with the Malaysian government, said in her court testimony a blood analysis of Kim indicated the enzyme cholinesterase was at a very low level of 344 units per liter, when the normal level is 5,300 units per liter, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Nurliza Abdullah, a government doctor who conducted the autopsy on Kim's body, told the court Monday that the pupil constriction and the large excrement found in Kim's underwear both pointed to poisoning.
Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) medical forensic consultant, Dr Nurliza Abdullah, 52, who did a post mortem on Kim Chol's body, said the large amount of faeces found on Kim Chol's underwear was sign of poisoning. [...] Questioned by DPP Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin during examination-in-chief, Dr Nurliza said there was also contraction of the victim's pupils, which was also a sign of poisoning.
The trial resumed after a break with the testimony of Dr Ranjini Sivaganabalan, a clinical toxicologist at Tengku Ampuan Rahimah in Klang.
The vials contained atropine, an antidote for poisons such as VX and insecticides, toxicologist Dr K. Sharmilah told the court on Wednesday, according to state news agency Bernama.
But Gooi stressed that if the prosecution wanted to replay the whole recording, he would apply for a trial within a trial on the admissibility of the exhibit. Justice Azmi Ariffin sustained the objection and ruled that the recording would not be played or admitted as evidence.