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Kim Jong-nam, brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, assassinated in Kuala Lumpur

NARITA, Japan - A man believed to be Kim Jong Nam, the elder son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, is seen walking toward an airplane bound for Beijing at Narita airport on May 4, 2001, following his deportation from Japan for trying to enter the country with a forged passport. (Kyodo)

Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s ‘Great Leader’ Kim Jong-un, has been assassinated at Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysia, whilst waiting for a flight to Macau.

The BBC is reporting Malaysian police officer saying the following

While waiting for the flight, a woman came from behind and covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid.  Following this, the man was seen struggling for help and managed to obtain the assistance of a KLIA [Kuala Lumpur International Airport] receptionist as his eyes suffered burns as a result of the liquid.  Moments later, he was sent to the Putrajaya Hospital where he was confirmed dead.

Apparently the assassin has not been caught.

Kim Jong-nam was hardly a politically significant figure at the time of his death, having lived for a long time in exile outside North Korea where he had no visible following or power base.  The circumstances of his death however clearly point to a carefully planned assassination using an apparently sophisticated poison.  Inevitably that draws suspicion onto the North Korean secret service, since it is difficult to see who else would have both the means and the motive to kill him in this way.

If Kim Jong-nam really was murdered by the North Korean secret service, then such a murder of a member of the ruling family could only have happened on the orders of the ‘Great Leader’ Kim Jong-un himself.  It is inconceivable that any other North Korean official would have ordered the murder of the ‘Great Leader’s’ half-brother on his own initiative.

North Korea can perhaps be best described as a totalitarian dynastic autocracy.  In such a system power is concentrated around the ‘Great Leader’ and his family, passing from father to son.  Since the system does not acknowledge primogeniture (succession by the eldest son) all the ‘Great Leader’s’ sons stand theoretically in equal line of succession.

That would arguably suffice to make Kim Jong-nam seem to Kim Jong-un a potential threat and rival, even if Kim Jong-nam himself had no ambition to become that.  The fact that Kim Jong-nam chose to live outside North Korea – beyond his half-brother’s control – would have made him appear doubly dangerous, and was probably what sealed his fate.

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