This Is the Most Shocking Thing About the Murder of Kim Jong Un’s Brother
Headlines have contained many shocking stories about North Korea lately, but none so disturbing, perhaps, as the one about Kim Jong Nam’s murder. Kim Jong Nam was North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half brother. He fell out of favor with the family when he was caught in a Japan airport with a fake passport — he was on his way to Tokyo Disneyland.
Kim Jong Nam died at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13, 2017. He was traveling with a passport under the pseudonym, Kim Chol, and he was 46 years old. He was carrying $120,000 in a backpack when he started to check in at the kiosk.
What happened next was a series of bizarre events that still don’t quite add up. Keep reading to find out the No. 1 shocker about Kim Jong Nam’s death, plus all the other mysterious events surrounding it. We’ll also take a look at who else Kim Jong Un has killed in his family and who might be next.
1. People blame the North Korean regime
In and of itself, it’s not shocking that the North Korean people blame Kim Jong Nam’s murder on their own regime. What is shocking is that they’re likely right.
According to the Washington Post, North Korea “makes no bones about getting rid of its enemies — sometimes through traditional purges and executions in North Korea, sometimes through mysterious car crashes in a country with almost no traffic. And sometimes with plots that would make James Bond proud.”
Next: The government has two suspects but is still missing four
2. Two female suspects face the death penalty
In October 2017, news headlines announced that the Malaysian government had two suspects under arrest — and four others still at large — for assassinating Kim Jong Nam. Judge Shah Alam, from Kuala Lumpur, is hearing the case, and suspects Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam and Siti Aisyah from Indonesia are facing the death penalty if they are convicted, according to Reuters.
Next: The missing suspects
3. Four missing suspects are North Koreans
The four missing suspects are from North Korea — and they are rumored to be government agents, complete with code names, such as “Grandpa” and “Mr. Y.” None of the four, though, are in custody. The four suspects flew out of Kuala Lumpur the morning of the murder — by way of Jakarta to Dubai to Russia before finally retuning to North Korea. Those were some fishy flights.
Next: The No. 1, most-shocking thing about Kim Jong Nam’s murder
4. Both suspects pleaded not guilty
Both suspects, Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah, pled not guilty for Kim Jong Nam’s assassination. That’s not so odd, but this certainly is: They claim someone fooled them into doing it. According to the women, they believed the whole thing was just a prank — and that it was going to appear on a reality television show. Siti Aisyah told police she done this type of prank three or four times before, according to the Washington Post.
Next: The grisly details
5. Here’s how the murder took place
As Kim Jong Nam was checking in at the kiosk, a Vietnamese woman — wearing a shirt with “LOL” on it — came up behind him and covered his face with her hands. She then ran away and disappeared into a woman’s restroom. Seconds later an Indonesian woman came up behind him, repeated the process, and ran to a sink in the airport.
Investigators say the women were rushing to wash off the poison they used to kill Kim Jong Nam. This is shocking in two ways: It’s amazing this took place in a large, public airport and no one did anything — and it’s incredible that whomever planned the murder came up with this as a plan.
Next: The extraordinary murder weapon
6. This is what actually killed Kim Jong Nam
The two women allegedly killed Kim Jong Nam with a nerve agent called VX, which was previously banned by an international treaty. The nerve agent blocks an enzyme that enables glands and muscles to relax, eventually killing the victim. In this case, it damaged Kim Jong Nam’s brain, liver, lungs, and spleen.
Depending on the severity of dose and the way it’s administered, death can happen in a few minutes or take hours. Kim Jong Nam had a concentration of VX on his skin that was 1.4 times more than the deadly amount for his weight.
Next: An autopsy argument
7. North Korea said no to an autopsy
Malaysian authorities announced that they would perform an autopsy on Kim Jong Nam as part of their investigation. But North Korean officials said no autopsy would be taking place without them witnessing it, acccording to CNN. Kang Chol, a North Korean ambassador to Malaysia, announced that North Korea would not accept autopsy results and demanded Malaysian authorities hand over the body. Malaysia maintained it did not need consent from North Korea to carry out the autopsy — and that it had no intention of sharing the results with North Korea.
Next: The other family members who have been killed, and who’s next.
Assassination of Jang Song Thaek
Kim Jong Un’s Uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was publicly executed by a firing squad in December 2013. At one time, Jang was considered the second most powerful person in North Korea, according to Esquire. He was Kim Jong Un’s protector when the public was uncertain about a 27-year-old taking power. He’d spent his life creating a network of allies at North Korean embassies across the world. However, Kim Kong Un had him killed less than two years into his role as supreme leader of North Korea.
Next: This was perhaps his greatest flaw that got him killed.
Why was he killed?
It’s suspected that Kim Jong Un thought Jang had become too powerful. He ordered that Jang be tried for treason, among other charges. “It shows that Kim Jong Un and the people around him … Are under great psychological pressure. And that makes them take extreme action,” David Straub, a former U.S. Diplomat and current fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, told Esquire. Once the right hand man of Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, Jang’s death proved that not even close relatives were safe from the dictator’s power.
Next: This cousin even tried plastic surgery to escape.
Assassination of Ri Il Nam
Although Ri Il Nam, a cousin to Kim Jong Il, was assassinated by the former leader rather than Kim Jong Un, the death still set a precedent for murdering family members. Ri Il Nam fled North Korea and took on a new name and new look — he underwent plastic surgery — in Seoul, South Korea, where he lived comfortably. He had contacted his family once to ask for money, but otherwise had not spoken to them in years. He was shot in the head in 1997 when he stepped out of the elevator in his building.
Next: A critical memoir sealed his fate.
Why was he killed?
Six months earlier, Ri Il Nam had published a memoir detailing the grim and gruesome life of living as a family member to Kim Jong Il. Esquire reported that he referred to his lavish life as a “fancy prison.” His sister, who also fled North Korea, halted the release of her own memoir upon learning of her brother’s death. She still has not released the book.
Next: Here’s who could be next.
Who could be next
Shortly after Kim Jong Nam’s death this year, his son, Kim Han Sol, released a video saying he was in hiding. Kim Han Sol has since come out to champion democracy, peace, and diplomacy. The 22-year-old lives a far different life than his North Korean family and does not stand for the same things as Kim Jong Un. Some think that because of this, he could actually be the biggest threat to the regime.
Next: Kim Jong Un’s surprising, true mental state.
Kim Jong Un’s true mental state
Kim Jong Un may seem like a crazy tyrant, but CNN reports top officials from the CIA say Kim is far from being a madman. The officials say Kim is motivated to keep his regime alive and well, and he acts rationally in accordance with his goals. As deputy assistant director Yong Suk Lee says, “Waking up one morning and deciding he wants to nuke” Los Angeles wouldn’t be characteristic of something he might do.
But just because Kim isn’t a madman doesn’t mean he’s not a violent dictator. He maintains his power by being confrontational and mercilessly getting rid of those who threaten his rule. The good news is Kim isn’t likely to act out on impulse or emotion — but the bad news is he’s still ruthless, even to his own people.
Additional reporting by Julia Mullaney.
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