KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Kim Jong Nam, the older brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was attacked at Kuala Lumpur’s airport and died on the way to a hospital, a senior Malaysian official said Tuesday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the incident’s diplomatic sensitivity, said Kim Jong Nam was sprayed with a liquid in the shopping concourse on Monday and sought help at an information counter, complaining of pain. He was taken to the airport clinic and then died en route to the hospital, he said.
District police chief Abdul Aziz Ali said the man was waiting for a flight to Macau.
Kim Jong Nam reportedly fell out of favor in North Korea after being caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport in 2001, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He was believed to be in his mid-40s and has reportedly been living in recent years in Macau, Singapore and Malaysia.
South Korean media reported that Kim Jong Nam was assassinated by two women. TV Chosun, citing unidentified “multiple government sources,” said the women were believed to be North Korean agents. It said they fled in a taxi and were being sought by Malaysian police.
Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un have the same father, late dictator Kim Jong Il, but different mothers.
Since taking power in late 2011, Kim Jong Un has executed or purged a slew of high-level government officials in what the South Korean government has described as a “reign of terror.”
The most spectacular among them was the 2013 execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, once considered the country’s second most powerful man, for what the North alleged was treason. The South’s government has said the North also executed a vice premier for education in 2016 for unspecified anti-revolutionary and factional acts, and a defense minister in 2015 for treason.
In Washington, the State Department said it was aware of reports of Kim Jong Nam’s death but declined to comment, referring questions to Malaysian authorities.
Mark Tokola, vice president at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, said it would be surprising if Kim Jong Nam was not killed on the orders of his brother, given that North Korean agents have reportedly tried to assassinate Kim Jong Nam in the past.
“It seems probable that the motivation for the murder was a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong Un, which may be a well-placed paranoia,” Tokola wrote in a commentary Tuesday. Although there was scant evidence that Kim Jong Nam was plotting against the North Korean leader, he provided an alternative for North Koreans who would want to depose his brother.
Tokola, who served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, said Kim Jong Nam has been fairly quiet in his exile, but was quoted in the Japanese media in 2010 as saying he opposed dynastic succession in North Korea.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.