He was the rightful heir to the North Korean throne – the first son born to the previous supreme leader Kim Jong-il. He was destined to succeed his father and take over at the helm of the reclusive communist state. He would command an army, have a nation’s wealth at his fingertips, and live the life of a ‘divine’ monarch supported by the undying love of his starving people. Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
But the eldest fell from grace. In 2001 he made an unsuccessful attempt to illegally enter Japan with a fake Dominican passport under the alias Pang Xiong (which means “Fat Bear” in mandarin). It was a desperate ploy on Kim’s part, a do-or-die venture, a last-ditch attempt to escape… to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
That’s right, the royal heir to the North Korean dictatorship lost his bid for Supreme Leadership, because he wanted to play with the Japanese Mickey Mouse. Kim Jong-nam was arrested in Japan, detained for three days and questioned before being deported.
When he returned to North Korean soil, it was with great dishonor.
Shortly afterwards Kim was banished and fled to the Chinese gambling hub of Macau. When his father died in 2011, the youngest son, Kim Jong-un succeeded to the throne instead. Kim Jong-nam was forgotten to the world, and disappeared into a secluded lifestyle with his wife and children. He gambled; he enjoyed fine wine and gourmet cuisine, traveled occasionally and otherwise maintained a relatively low profile.
For years the eldest Kim had been living under the fear that his younger brother would have him killed. He described it as living with a “sword of Damocles” hanging over his head. The young Supreme Leader is notorious for having relatives and close government associates murdered. In 2014 he publicly executed his uncle, with an antiaircraft gun, on charges of “treason.” Naturally, the exiled Kim brother sustained a certain level of paranoia, anxiety that his brother might send an assassin to take care of him once and for all.
Well, on Monday, February the 13th, 2017 it seems that sword of Damocles finally fell.
As Kim was in the Kuala Lampur airport returning to Macau from a brief visit to Malaysia, two women approached Kim and sprayed him in the face with a solution so toxic, he died en route to the hospital.
Both of the women have been arrested in the days since. The first woman, Siti Aisyah, 25, was a Malaysian mother, who was apparently duped into believing she was playing pranks for a reality TV game show, wherein her and another woman would convince men to close their eyes and then spray them in the face with water. According to police, Siti did this several times in the days leading up to Kim’s assassination, and was paid each time to do it. Both her and her boyfriend have been arrested by Malaysian police.
The other woman, however, has yet to be named by the police. Apparently she had been staying in extremely cheap hotels close to the airport in the days preceding Kim’s assassination. She changed accommodations twice: according to the receptionist of the first hotel, she booked the cheapest room available and carried with her a “huge wad of cash.” At the second hotel she borrowed scissors from the management, and housekeeping discovered mounds of human hair in the bathroom after her departure – suggesting she changed her physical appearance. She was arrested on Wednesday 15th in possession of a Vietnamese passport.
Then, on Friday the 17th, another suspect was arrested – a North Korean man named Ri Jong Chol, 46. He is the first North Korean implicated in the assassination, and the fourth person to have been arrested in connection to the attack.
In the days since, Malaysian officials investigating the murder and performed an autopsy, despite North Korea’s repeated demands that they return the body. South Korea has declared the attack an act of terrorism. And while that is a commendable stance, why call it terror? Why not call it what it was: an assassination. The people of Malaysia weren’t terrified by the incident. Random innocents weren’t killed. The attack was not indiscriminate. It was one Kim killing another, and certainly that generates some diplomatic difficulties, but it doesn’t really qualify as ‘terrorism.’
The wife and children of Kim Jong-nam have been placed under police custody and protection for fear that there may be people hunting them, too. In the coming days, more will likely be discovered as the Malaysian investigation delves deeper into the case.
But how much more do we really need to know? Although it hasn’t been technically verified, everyone knows who was truly, ultimately behind Kim Jong-nam’s murder. What really remains to be seen, is what the international community’s response is – because, this success may have emboldened Kim Jong-un, and that could be a very dangerous thing for the world at large.
Sources: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/17/suspect-north-korea-killing-thought-she-was-taking-part-in-tv-prank-indonesia-siti-aisyah-police-kim-jong-nam, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/16/kim-jong-nam-sword-damocles-half-brother-north-korean-heir-great-leader