Kim Jong Nam, once seen as the man most likely to head the reclusive state of North Korea, died en route to the hospital on Monday, after seemingly being poisoned in a Malaysian airport.
According to Malaysian police, Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of Kim Jong Un, reported being attacked from behind, before falling ill and seeking assistance from airport staff.
“The deceased… felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind,” the Malaysian police statement said. “He felt dizzy, so he asked for help at the… counter of KLIA [Kuala Lumpur International Airport].”
The man, whose name was initially reported as “Kim Chol” with a slightly different birthdate than that of the brother of North Korea’s Supreme Leader, was taken into an airport clinic for triage, before being transferred to a hospital for further evaluation. He then died during the trip. A source close to the Kim family told BBC news reporters that poison was involved in the death after an autopsy was conducted on Tuesday.
Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea since being appointed in December of 2011, was not always the favorite for the position. In fact, most predicted Kim Jong Nam would become North Korea’s leader upon the death of their father, Kim Jong Il. However, in 2001, Jong-nam was caught attempting to enter Japan using a false passport. When questioned, he explained that he and his family had intended to visit Disneyland in Tokyo – the international incident was an embarrassment for North Korea, and for its unquestioned leader, Kim Jong Il. Soon, Jong-nam’s younger half-brother, Kim Jong Un, was being groomed for the top spot in the nation’s government instead.
Since taking power, however, Kim Jong Un has struggled to establish the same level of credibility within his government and in the minds of the North Korean people who his father and grandfather both enjoyed. While the nation still sees Kim Il-sung, the current leader’s grandfather, as a near deity, the thirty-three-year-old leader has met limited success in establishing the same level of revelry since his father’s unexpected death in 2011.
Perceptions of Kim Jong Un have been further damaged by his purging of prominent North Korean officials. Many assume his execution of many top ranking North Koreans has been intended to consolidate his power, but in the minds of many within the nation, these executions are seen as an example of his weak leadership, as a number of the executed had established themselves as national heroes to a certain extent under the administrations of Jong Un’s father and grandfather. Reports out of North Korea indicate that Kim Jong Un has personally ordered the execution of three hundred and forty officials since taking power – a number that could be seen as indicative of how many people the Supreme Leader feels threatened his political supremacy.
Since falling out of favor with his father, Kim Jong Nam has made a number of public statements that likely contributed to the poor perception of his younger half-brother as a leader. Spending most of his life overseas in countries like Macau, Singapore and China, Jong Nam publicly denounced “dynastic succession,” or the passing of power along blood lines, in 2011. He was also quoted in a book published in 2012 as believing Kim Jong Un “lacked leadership qualities.” He called on North Korea to adopt Chinese-style economic reform due to its instability.
It is very likely that Kim Jong Un personally gave the order to kill his older half-brother, as a North Korean spy captured in 2012 reportedly already admitted to attempting to organize an assassination of the man via hit and run that never came to fruition. This would indicate that Kim Jong Nam has had a target on his back for some time, and somehow North Korean agents were only now able to successfully complete the assassination.
Image courtesy of AFP