Investigators are beginning to shed light on the mysterious, sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother in Malaysia on Tuesday.
Kim Jong Nam died en route to the hospital, after reportedly telling medical workers that he had been attacked at the Kuala Lumpur airport in broad daylight.
Now, Malaysian officials have taken three people into custody, as NPR’s Elise Hu reports from Seoul. Here’s more from Elise:
“Police say airport surveillance footage shows two women approaching the 45-year old Kim in Terminal 2. One covered his face with a cloth. Minutes later, Kim fell ill, sought help and died while being rushed to the hospital. Both women are now in custody. One holds an Indonesian passport, the other, Vietnamese.”
Elise adds that investigators have also apprehended a third suspect, identified as a taxi driver, who is said to be linked to the women. The Associated Press says Malaysian authorities say he is “believed to be the boyfriend of the Indonesian suspect.”
Indonesian authorities have been able to meet with that suspect and confirmed she is an Indonesian national, according to the wire service.
Kim Jong Nam has been living outside of North Korea for years. Once thought to be the heir apparent to his father, Kim Jong Il, he fell out of favor in 2001 after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake Dominican passport, apparently to visit Disneyland.
And as The Two-Way has reported, he is believed to have feared for his life for years. It’s not clear whether the three suspects in custody have any direct ties to the North Korean government.
But Kim Chang-su at the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses tells Elise that Kim Jong Un may have perceived his brother as a threat: “He’s on the throne. He’s really emphasizing his presence on the throne, nobody can be allowed to challenge him in North Korea.”
You can listen to Elise’s full report on Morning Edition here:
The next piece of the puzzle to emerge will likely be the cause of death. Malaysian authorities have conducted an autopsy but have not yet released the results.
A senior Malaysian police official told the AP that “North Korea had objected to the autopsy but Malaysia went ahead with it anyway because the North did not submit a formal protest.”
As Elise reports, North Korean state media has not yet mentioned Kim Jong Nam’s death.