Malaysian authorities Thursday detained two more people in connection with the mysterious death of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korea’s leader,
Police in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, said they had arrested a woman carrying Indonesian travel documents and a local man, both suspected to have connections to the apparent assassination.
They said they identified the woman from closed-circuit television footage of the fatal encounter with Nam, who fell ill Monday morning while waiting at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a flight to Macau. Another woman, also said to have been identified from the video, was arrested Wednesday. Authorities said she had a Vietnamese passport.
Kim, aged 45 or 46, is believed to be the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He died en route to a hospital after seeking help from airport officials.
The Malaysian authorities, who along with their South Korean counterparts suspect poisoning, said an autopsy had been completed Wednesday. Toxicological details were not yet available.
On Thursday, officials across several countries were still trying to piece together facts about the bizarre death, which the South Korean government suspects was a brazen public assassination carried out by agents working for the North Korean regime.
"This is just fascinating stuff, and it's full of psychological drama," said Michael Madden, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University who heads NK Leadership Watch, an analysis website focused on North Korea.
Kim was once thought to be a possible dynastic successor to his father, but he fell from grace after Japanese authorities caught him entering their country under falsified documents in 2001. He said he wanted to take his 4-year-old son, Kim Han Sol, to Tokyo Disneyland.
Kim, known to frequent casinos and travel around Asia, had been living in the Chinese region of Macau, where members of his family reside. He was waiting to return home when the incident occurred. Police said he traveled using an apparently legitimate North Korean passport with the name Kim Chol.
A Malaysian police official, Fadzil Ahmat, told local reporters that one of the women seen on camera covered Kim's face with a cloth that had been laced with a liquid. He said Kim's eyes "suffered burns as a result of the liquid."
Intelligence agents in South Korea, who try to closely monitor North Korean officials in and outside the peninsula, quickly determined that Pyongyang was responsible.
North Korea is no stranger to assassination of those perceived to threaten the Kim regime. Since taking power five years ago, Kim Jong Un has executed or purged several top regime officials, including his own uncle.
"If the murder of Kim Jong Nam were proven to be committed by the North, that would clearly depict the brutality and inhumanity of the Kim Jong Un regime," said South Korea's prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn.
According to some intelligence reports, North Korea's leader had a "standing order" for years to assassinate his half brother. It's unclear whether the two men, born to separate mothers and educated overseas, knew each other well — or ever even met. South Korean intelligence officials say the elder brother wrote the North Korean leader in 2012 asking that he and his family be spared.
"Their spy agency had consistently been preparing for the killing, and it just turned out to have been accomplished this time," South Korea's spy chief, Lee Byung-ho, told lawmakers in Seoul.
The details of the death are far from certain. North Korea watchers note that Kim Jong Nam was overweight and was believed to have suffered from diabetes. But most signs suggest homicide, authorities in Malaysia and South Korea say.
The police are now holding two women: Doan Thi Huong, 28, who had Vietnamese travel documents; and Siti Aishah, 25, whose papers listed her as Indonesian. They can be held for at least seven days as the investigation continues.
The third suspect, Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin, 26, was arrested Thursday evening. Police said he was romantically involved with the woman carrying Indonesian travel documents and detained to "assist in investigations" into Kim's death.
Authorities were also looking for four men who seemed to accompany the women at the airport just before Kim fell ill.
North Korean diplomats, who enjoy good relations with Malaysia, have reportedly been eager to retrieve Kim's body from the hospital's forensics ward. Malaysia's deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, told reporters that the government would cooperate with such requests after the investigation concluded.
"Once the police and medical procedures are done, we may release the body," he said.
He insisted that the high-profile incident shouldn't reflect poorly on safety in Malaysia or its airports, whose closed-circuit television network apparently helped identify the women, and potentially others, who were involved.
"Safety is a main priority here," he said. "This is a very isolated case."
Stiles is a special correspondent.
8:20 a.m.: Updates throughout with staff reporting.