- Kim Jong Un’s elder half-brother was assassinated at a Malaysian airport on February 13, 2017.
- One year later, many questions surrounding Kim Jong Nam’s death remain unanswered.
It’s been one year since the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was assassinated at a Malaysian airport – but the much of the case remains a mystery.
Kim Jong Nam was killed after two women rubbed a lethal nerve agent called VX on his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017.
Both women, who have been charged with murder, have consistently maintained their innocence, claiming that they thought they were participating in a prank for a TV show. Four men have been charged as well, but are still on the run.
The murder trial started last October and is scheduled to finish on March 22, 2018.
Here’s what we know about the assassination – and what we still don’t.
This is Kim Jong Nam. He was the eldest son of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Il and one of his mistresses, and was once considered a potential successor.
Kim Jong Un and his siblings – including Kim Yo Jong, whom he sent to the Pyeongchang Olympics – are the children of a different mistress, a former dancer named Ko Young Hui.
Here’s video footage of the assassination, shown in video footage obtained by the Japanese TV channel Fuji Television, and annotated by the UK’s Channel 5 News.
The women accused of killing Kim Jong Nam have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show.
- Thomson Reuters
The suspected assassins – 25-year-old Indonesian Siti Aisyah and 29-year-old Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong – have both pleaded not guilty and said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a hidden-camera reality TV show.
Aisyah was so convinced of her innocence that she thought that her arrest and subsequent imprisonment were part of the prank, the acting Indonesian ambassador in Malaysia at the time told GQ magazine.
Andreano Erwin, the ambassador, told GQ: “The first time we visited her, she kept asking when she could leave the jail. The second, she complained that she still hadn’t been paid for the last prank. The third time, she accused us of being part of the prank.
“The fourth time, we showed her a newspaper proving Kim Jong-nam had died. When she saw it, she started to cry.”
Doan was wearing a white shirt emblazoned with the word “LOL” at the time. The shirt’s designer said shortly after the assassination that he “thought she looked very stylish.”
- Malaysian CCTV
They had reportedly been trained to rub liquids on people’s faces for weeks.
- REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
In the weeks running up to the assassination, Aisyah was given practice sessions on how to smear liquids on people’s faces. It’s unclear whether Doan was given the same training.
Aisyah was recruited to be part of what she thought was a Japanese prank show on January 5, five weeks before the assassination, the court heard earlier this month.
Aisyah’s “trainers” led her through luxury hotels, malls, and airports in Malaysia and Cambodia, where she practised smearing non-lethal oil and hot sauce on Chinese-looking men, GQ reported.
She was paid between 400 and 650 Malaysian ringgit (£73/$101 to £119/$165) after her first few trial runs, the court heard in February.
Aisyah said she noticed that the substance she was given to smear Kim with smelled like machine oil, unlike the other liquids used in her other practice sessions.
Her handlers – a man who purported to be a Japanese national named James, and another claiming to be a Chinese man called Chang – were also later revealed to be North Koreans named Ri Ji U and Hong Song Hac, according to GQ.
Kim Jong Nam was reportedly carrying vials of VX antidote in his bag when he was attacked.
- REUTERS/Edgar Su
Kim Jong Nam was carrying twelve vials of antidote for VX, the lethal nerve agent that killed him, in his sling bag on the day he was killed, the court heard in December.
The vials contained atropine, which can counteract the effects of VX and insectisides, a toxicologist told the court.
Nial Wheate, a pharmaceutics lecturer at the University of Sydney, told CNN: “If you know someone is coming after you with a nerve agent, atropine is a key drug you would want to carry.”
Four North Korean men have also been named as suspects, but have never been caught. Malaysian police think they’re hiding in Pyongyang.
- Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters
From left to right, the photos above show Hong Song Hac, Ri Ji Hyon, Ri Jae Nam, and O Jong Gil.
Kim Jong Nam reportedly met a US intelligence agent days before his death — fuelling a theory that the US and/or China had been planning to remove Kim Jong Un from power.
- Reuters/KYODO Kyodo
According to a May 2017 report in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Kim Jong Nam secretly met a US intelligence agent at a hotel room in Langkawi, northern Malaysia, on February 9 – four days before his death.
A USB stick had been inserted into the laptop Kim was carrying, investigators said, prompting suspicions that Kim handed over important data to the agent.
That revelation fuelled a theory that the US – possibly even China – had been trying to remove Kim Jong Un from power and install Kim Jong Nam in his place.
A Malaysian police official appeared to confirm this theory in his court testimony last month. The official, however, failed to confirm multiple details, including the names of the hotel or the American that Kim supposedly met.
News of the assassination reached South Korea before North Korea — because Malaysian officials mixed up the two Koreas and notified the wrong embassy.
After inspecting Kim’s passport, Malaysian authorities accidentally confused the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – the formal name of North Korea – with the Republic of Korea, Reuters reported last year.
Within 24 hours of Kim’s death, South Korean intelligence officials briefed lawmakers on the case, which was subsequently leaked to the country’s media.
North Korea held 11 Malaysians hostage after Kuala Lumpur opened an investigation into the case.
- Lai Seng Sin/Reuters
North Korea engaged in a diplomatic spat with Malaysia as the government started investigating the murder.
North Korean state media KCNA accused Malaysia of politicising the murder after the country performed an autopsy on Kim Jong Nam’s body.
“The Malaysian side is going to politicize the transfer of the body in utter disregard of international law and morality, and thus attain a sinister purpose,” KCNA said at the time, according to NBC News.
Two weeks later, North Korea banned 11 Malaysians from leaving the country, which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called an “abhorrent act, effectively holding our citizens hostage.”
Shortly afterward, two of them were let go. It’s not clear what happened to the other nine.
North Korea may have tried to kill Kim Jong Nam before — agents reportedly botched a separate assassination attempt in 2010.
An unnamed 50-year-old North Korean spy who defected to South Korea admitted to being part of a botched plot to run over Kim Jong Nam in China in 2010.
The assassination attempt – which involved hiring a taxi driver to carry out a hit-and-run – ultimately failed because the elder Kim was out of the country, Agence France-Presse reported in 2012.
The animosity dates back to an unsanctioned trip to Disneyland Tokyo.
- Wikimedia Commons
As Kim Jong Il’s eldest son, Kim Jong Nam was once seen as his father’s natural successor, instead of his younger half-brother Kim Jong Un.
However, Kim Jong Nam fell out of favour with his father in the early 2000s.
According to the Washington Post, the spat came when Kim Jong Nam and his family were caught trying to enter Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland on false Dominican Republic passports.
North Korean operatives have reportedly been trying to kill Kim Jong Nam’s son, who has referred to Kim Jong Un as a “dictator” and is currently in hiding.
- Cheollima Civil Defense/YouTube
Seven North Korean spies were sent to China to kill Kim Han Sol, the 22-year-old son of Kim Jong Nam, an anonymous source told South Korea’s JoongAng Daily newspaper last November.
The plan failed, however, after Chinese authorities caught two of the assassins.
A man identifying himself as Kim Han Sol published a video shortly after Kim Jong Nam’s death saying, in English, that he and his family were living in an undisclosed location out of fear for their safety.
Watch the video here:
Kim Han Sol has also previously referred to his uncle as a “dictator” and in 2012 told Finnish TV: “I’ve always dreamed that one day I would go back and make things better and make it easier for the people there.”