Kim Jong Nam
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother was assassinated in Malaysia 13 February 2017. Kim Jong-nam was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur Airport. This was the highest-profile death since the regime's leader Kim Jong-un purged his uncle Jang Song-thaek in late 2013. Kim Jong Nam was critical of the third-generation power succession in North Korea although recently he refrained from making public comments about his home country. South Korea's Institute for National Security in December 2016 claimed that Kim Jong Un has ordered the execution of 340 people since he came to power in December 2011.
The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong Nam. The substance, deadly even in minute amounts, was detected on Kim’s eyes and face, Malaysia’s inspector general of police said in a written statement 24 February 2017. Two women — one of them Indonesian, the other Vietnamese — coated their hands with chemicals and wiped them on Kim’s face. There is an antidote that can be administered by injection. Kim Jong Nam sought help from airport staff but he fell into convulsions and died on the way to the hospital within two hours of the attack, police said.
Malaysia had three people in custody in connection with Kim Jong Nam’s death, including the two suspected attackers. Authorities were also seeking several other people, including the second secretary of North Korea’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur and an employee of North Korea’s state-owned airline, Air Koryo.
Kim Jong-nam's son, Han-sol, was believed to be staying in Chinese territory. Kim Han Sol, entered an international school in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2011 and was admitted to the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies in 2013. Kim Han Sol once told foreign reporters that his father was not interested in politics.
Kim Jong Nam was reportedly considered a threat to his brother’s rule because of his outspoken criticism of the continued repressive and authoritarian practices within the country, because he was a proponent of reform polices that would loosen state controls, and because there was speculation that Chinese President Xi Jinping would prefer to see him replace his younger brother as the leader of North Korea.
North Korea observed the 75th anniversary of its late leader Kim Jong Il's birthday on 16 February 2017. His third son and current leader Kim Jong Un and other executive officials attended a meeting in Pyongyang to celebrate the anniversary on 15 February 2017. Kim said Sunday's launch of a new ballistic missile brilliantly decorated his father's birthday. He praised the late Kim, saying the former leader raised North Korea to nuclear power status. He also said North Korea vows to defeat the US hostile policy toward his country.
Initial reports said that Kim Jong-un died after two women presumed to be North Korean agents shot him poisoned needles, and that the women fled from the scene. Some witnesses said that the murder suspects sprayed an unidentified substance on his face. BBC quoted a Malaysian police official as saying that a woman covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid.
Korea's National Intelligence Serice did confirm the victim was Kim Jong-nam, and that he had died of poisoning, although the method of delivery, either a poisoned needle or spray, was still to be determined. The agency added that it was not the first time Kim had been targeted and that a previous assassination attempt had been made in 2012.
Kim Jong-nam had been exposed to the threat of attack since March after China stopped providing as much security to him as it cozied up to the regime in Pyongyang in opposition to the planned deployment of THAAD in South Korea. The Royal Malaysia Police released a statement on 15 February 2017 confirming the arrest of a female suspect in the investigation of the murder of Kim Jong-nam. The statement identified the suspect as a 29-year old woman in possession of Vietnamese travel documents. She was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the scene of the crime, and was alone at the time. She was said to have been identified from CCTV footage at the airport.
To understand this murder, ask why Michael whacked his brother Fredo. "Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever." - Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part II. "I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies." - Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II. The assassination of Kim Jong Nam bolstered the argument that North Korea is a mafia state that operates outside the law, ruthlessly eliminates its enemies and is dependent upon criminal enterprises for survival.
North Korean analysts have categorized the Kim regime as a highly corrupt, family-led criminal enterprise that disregards international laws and is involved in smuggling, arms dealing, including the proliferation of nuclear materials and missile parts, drug trafficking, counterfeiting money, all to generate revenue for the wealthy ruling elite.
Kim Jong-un had so far reportedly executed at least 140 senior officials, including his uncle and mentor Jang Sung-thaek in 2013. Whether Kim Jong-nam would have posed a threat to Kim Jong-un is unclear. Although he showed no signs of ambition to challenge his younger brother, Kim Jong-nam represented a question-mark of legitimacy and remained a potential thorn in the leader's side.
The fact that Kim Jong-nam was in the bloodline could be seen as a threat to the dictator. Entering his sixth year in power, Kim Jong-un appeared to be cementing the cult of personality around him. Some saw the assassination as a typical case. "All the tyrants tend to kill their brothers, their in-laws, kin people around them because they believe this is the only way to solidify his power base because he feels pressed by all people." Possibly adding to Kim Jong-un's hostility towards his half-brother,…. Kim Jong-nam had publicly criticized the transfer of power that brought Kim Jong-un to the top of the regime, replacing their father.
Another possible motive being discussed is China's protection of Kim Jong-nam in case Kim Jong-un died. Kim Jong-nam has been China's favorite. The Chinese government has been financially supporting Kim Jong-nam because Beijing looked to him as the next North Korean leader in case an emergency occurs. For Kim Jong-un, eliminating his half-brother favored by Beijing was necessary, especially because he himself did not have good relations with China.
Another reason for the killing was to prevent Kim Jong-nam from going to South Korea. A source who asked not to be named said Kim Jong-nam had been called back Pyongyang by the North Korean authorities for various reasons, but did not respond. There are also reports that an attempt by Kim Jong-nam to enter the South led to his murder.
Experts on the Korean Peninsula said the reported assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, indicated the internal instability of the North Korean regime. Victor Cha, chair of Korea studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Yonhap News that the death of Kim Jong-nam hinted at how much resistance there was inside the country.
He said he does not agree with the assessment that the North had maintained stability for the past five years during the transition of power from former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un. Pointing out that Kim Jong-un sacked the minister of state security Kim Won-hong last month and now kills the elder brother, Cha said the North does not “look so stable" to him.
Mark Tokola, vice president of the Korea Economic Institute of America, had a similar analysis on the North Korea situation. In a statement, Tokola said “there are very few that would directly benefit from Kim Jong-nam's death other than his half-brother in Pyongyang." He added that the death of Kim Jong-nam might have been prompted by “a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong-un."
Carl Thayer, a defense analyst at the University of New South Wales, said Kim Jong Nam’s death was a further indicator of political anxieties in North Korea. “And even though his older brother was pushed outside and it was clear he was never going to come back to challenge him, it may be just another indication of Kim Jong Un’s perceived anxieties," he said.
It is known that dozens of North Korean defectors are being protected in the South under high-level police protection measures, with security guards staying with them around-the-clock. The police plan to increase the number of security guards escorting North Korean defectors that may be targeted by North Korean operatives or move their places of residence for their safety.
Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was once considered a potential successor until he was caught trying to enter Japan with a fake passport with his son and two women in 2001. Kim Jong Nam's travel habits demonstrated that he was not in line to succeed his father to the leadership of North Korea. He evidently travelled by commercial scheduled passenger aircraft, rather than by government VIP aircraft. When he travelled commercially, he appeared to travel with a modest entourage that could provide no more than perfunctory physical security. These measures were inconsistent with the protection that would be accorded the second most valuable person in the country, the successor to the leader.
Kim Jong Nam was born on 10 May 1971 to Song Hye Rim, Kim Jong Il's second wife. But it is not known with certainty whether Kim Jong-il actually married Sung, and there are suggestions that Kim Jong-nam may be illegitimate, and thus not the obvious heir-apparent. Sung Hye-rim soon moved to Moscow after falling out with Kim Jong-il. At the age of 10, Kim Jong Nam was packed off to study at an international school in Geneva.
South Korean reports claim during his time studying in Switzerland he reportedly learnt about democracy. He was said to have tried to convince his father to reform North Korea too, and that's when he started to fall out of favor with his father.
Kim Jong Nam was at one time believed to be a prospective successor to his father to take the helm of the communist North. He had been appointed to a senior post in the domestic intelligence agency, featured in defector accounts as leading a purge in 1996 in which dozens of people were executed. He was also known as a computer enthusiast. As of 2001 he led North Korea's committee on computing, and was believed to be responsible for information technology policy.
As of 2001 a few South Korean businesses employed the Korean Computer Center (KCC), a state-owned enterprise in Pyongyang, to write software for specialty applications such as voice recognition and fingertip identification. The KCC, established in 1990, had about 800 employees with an average age of about 26. [Hard-Line Software, BY TIM LARIMER Time Asia, FEBRUARY 19, 2001, VOL.157 NO.7]
In January 2001 the Nodong Sinmun announced a policy of "New Thinking" (Saeroun kwanjom) which called for scrapping outmoded habits and mentalities and putting all efforts into the technological reconstruction of North Korea, with a special emphasis on information technology. This special mention of information technology, Kim Jong Nam's area of special responsibility, might have been taken as an indication of his impending or actual elevation to the succession.
The so-called "Small General" was said to have visited Japan to build up his knowledge in the Japanese language and computer technology. Kim Jong-nam first sneaked into Japan with a forged passport around 1995. Japanese security authorities did not recognize him because there were few close-up pictures of him, and little other information available, since he had never officially appeared in public. He was also known to have recently studied at the universities in Geneva and Moscow.
On Tuesday 01 May 2001 Japanese authorities detained Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong Il, at Narita airport for attempting to enter the country illegally. He was detained by immigration officers when he arrived from Singapore aboard Japan Airlines Flight 712 with two women and a 4-year-old boy. The younger of the two women was said to be Jong-nam's secretary and Japanese interpreter. The child was his son, but it was not clear whether the other female companion was his wife, Shin Jong-hi, or a relative who takes care of the child.
The man was found to possess a forged Dominican Republic passport, which contained records of previous entries into Japan, once in October 2000 and twice in December 2000. He reportedly told investigators through an interpreter that he was the son of Kim Jong Il and "wants to go to Tokyo Disneyland." Kim Jong Nam had previously attempted to sneak into Japan several times under a false name to visit sightseeing spots. Foreign Ministry officials said the man was "highly likely to be Kim Jong Nam" but stopped short of officially identifying as such. The four were deported on Friday 4 May 2001 to Beijing.
Kim Jong-nam's weakened position became apparent in 2002, when he spent much of the year in Russia, tending his ailing mother. Kim Jong Nam's 65-year-old mother Sung Hae Rim [Sung Hye-rim] died in July or August of 2002 in Moscow. A former actress, she suffered chronic diseases including cardiopathology, diabetes and mental depression, and a complication of these killed her. Sung used to be the most famous actress in North Korea during the 1960s and 70s. Reportedly Sung left the Dear Leader because she was tired of Kim Jong Il's adultery. Sung had been living in Moscow since the early 1980s. In February of 1996, Sung Hae Rim and her sister Sung Hye Rang, briefly moved to Geneva, Switzerland. But Sung Hae Rim eventually returned to Moscow.
Although Kim Jong Nam had previously been touted as Kim Jong-il's heir-apparent, after the Tokyo airport incident and the death of his mother, he appeared to be out of the leadership race. As of early 2003 he was believed to be residing in China.
Kim Jong Nam's appearance at a Beijing airport 25 September 2004 further fueled doubts about his status. He was travelling alone and there was no one greeting him on his arrival. He appeared to have arrived from an unknown third country, not North Korea. His overseas trip with no bodyguards and officials indicated that he was out of the contention for the leadership.
There is precedent for the regime re-instating disgraced figures after a period of atonement, and his rehabilitation cannot be excluded. Oldest sons are generally favored in North Korea, where Confucian traditions that honor seniority still hold sway.
A collective leadership headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law is in the making in Pyongyang, the Yomiuri Shimbun claimed 15 January 2009. The Japanese daily said Jang Song-taek (62), who is director of the administrative department of the North Korean Workers Party, is to head this setup, with Kim's eldest son Jong-nam as the titular head of state. According to the paper, these plans had been made in Kim was incapacitated or dies. Jang Sung Taek was said to have been conducting operations related to the succession since November of last year, and additionally reported that Kim Jong Nam had started to be called the "Morning Star General," a title which tended to suggest newly-elevated importance.
On 24 January 2009 North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, said that his father is the only figure that can decide on his successor. "Nobody can assert anything... My father will only decide," Kim told reporters upon arriving at a Beijing airport, when asked about the next leader of the communist country. He was in the Chinese capital for a couple of days "on leisure for personal events".
Kim Jong-nam was essentially exiled from North Korea thereon and spent much of his time in China and Macau, and eventually his half-brother Kim Jong-un was named heir-apparent in 2010. Although rarely appearing in public, he would speak to reporters occasionally and make critical comments about his brother and the regime.
He lived with his family in a villa in the Beijing suburbs, and regularly stayed at a luxury hotel in Macau. Kim Jong Nam was spotted eating at Japanese and Korean restaurants, and buying luxury goods. Some analysts say North Korea covered his living expenses. Others note that he was involved in managing funds and exporting arms for Pyongyang. But the details remained murky.
Kim Jong Nam's family had lived in Macau. An employee at a casino said Kim came in a group of 4 or 5 and those with him were well-built. This suggests Kim was accompanied by bodyguards. The employee related a person who saw Kim gambling said that he bet tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when he visited the VIP room. A house Kim Jong Nam once used is located in a toney residential area along the coast. A neighbor said they haven't seen people coming or going in the past few years.
Since his uncle Jang Song-thaek was executed in 2013, he had been living in Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. The chief of the National Intelligence Service(NIS) said 15 February 2017 that North Korea had previously attempted to kill Kim Jong-nam, the elder half brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un in 2012. NIS Director Lee Byung-ho told the parliamentary intelligence committee that Kim Jong-nam begged the North Korean leader not to kill him and his family in a letter written in April 2012 after the assassination attempt.
In 2012, authorities in South Korea arrested a man who entered the country posing as a defector from the North. The man was indicted on suspicion of planning to attack Kim Jong Nam on orders he received from North Korean officials while hiding in China. In 2004, South Korean media said Kim survived a trip to Australia because authorities there stepped up security after being told of a plot to assassinate him.
In 2012 he wrote a note to Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi saying, "The Kim Jong-un regime will not last long. Without reforms."
Kim Jong-nam had once been regarded as a leading candidate for succeeding his father. But Kim Jong-nam said he was “personally opposed to the handover of power to the third generation," during an interview with Japan‘s Asahi TV on Oct. 11, 2010, and he made similar remarks in an interview with Japan’s Tokyo Shimbun in Jan. 2011. Kim Jong-nam adopted a cautious attitude. “I think that this was what my father decided. Since I’ve never had any regrets or interest in this, I don’t care at all," he said.
Even though more than five years had passed since Kim Jong-un became North Korea’s leader, he had not had a summit with China. Kim Jong-un had not received official recognition from China, and some said his greatest fear was the possibility of China replacing him with a “puppet regime" under Kim Jong-nam. In the event of a crisis in North Korea, Kim Jong-nam was thought to be China’s likely choice, given his relative openness and flexible outlook. That is why China was providing Kim Jong-nam with protection in his travels overseas. This prompted speculation that Kim Jong-nam’s assasination was connected with the sudden execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, in Dec. 2013. Jang Song-thaek was the North Korean figure with the closest ties to China.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list