Older Brother Of Kim Jong-Un Murdered In Kuala Lumpur

North Korean Intrigue.......

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The older brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has died in Kuala Lumpur in what appears to be a rather brazen assassination:

SEOUL, South Korea — The estranged half brother of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, was assassinated in Malaysia this week, South Korean news outlets reported on Tuesday, citing an unidentified government source.

The half brother, Kim Jong-nam, 45, was killed by two women who attacked him with poison needles at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday, TV Chosun, South Korea’s all-news channel, reported without identifying its source. The news agency Yonhap also reported the killing, without confirming any of those details.

TV Chosun said that the women fled in a taxi after the attack and that the local police were searching for them.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and its Unification Ministry said they could not immediately confirm the report.

Reports of the killing come amid a period of turmoil in the upper ranks of North Korea’s leadership. The chief of the North’s powerful secret police, long considered the right-hand man for Kim Jong-un, was recently dismissed on charges of corruption and abuse of power, according to the South Korean government.

In Kuala Lumpur, a government official said that workers and the police at Kuala Lumpur International Airport had found a man who was ill on Monday and that he had died after being taken to the hospital. The official said the authorities were awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the deceased North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, was once considered the heir to power in the dynastic regime in Pyongyang. But he was believed to have hobbled his chance of becoming leader when he was caught in 2001 while trying to take his son to Tokyo Disneyland with a fake visa. He was detained for several days before being deported to China.

Other analysts in South Korea say that Kim Jong-nam fell out of the succession race after his mother, Sung Hae-rim, was rejected by the North Korean leader, who favored Kim Jong-un’s mother, Ko Young-hee. Ms. Ko and Kim Jong-il had another son, Kim Jong-chol, who was seen at an Eric Clapton concert in London in 2015.

North Korea began actively grooming Kim Jong-un as heir after his father had a stroke in 2008. As his youngest brother consolidated his power, Kim Jong-nam lived in semi-exile abroad. Until recently, he had sometimes been seen in Macau. TV Chosun said he had also been visiting Singapore and Malaysia, where he had girlfriends.

Like his half brother, Kim Jong-nam spent time in Switzerland as a teenager.

Mr. Kim was once questioned in Macau by a reporter about the likelihood that his brother would take over the leadership of North Korea, and he seemed to accept his fate.

“It is my father’s decision,” he said. “So, once he decides, we have to support.”

But Mr. Kim also once predicted doom for his half brother’s rule while talking to reporters from Japan, North Korea’s sworn enemy. His criticism had fueled speculation that China and certain generals in Pyongyang might be protecting him in case anything should go wrong with Kim Jong-un’s rule.

Officially, Beijing has voiced support for the North Korean succession.

Speculation quickly spread in South Korea on Tuesday that Kim Jong-un might be behind the reported death of his half brother. TV Chosun said that the North Korean leader appeared to have sent agents to assassinate his eldest sibling, considering him a potential threat to his rule.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for South Korea’s governing Liberty Korea Party, Kim Myung-yeon, issued a statement saying that the killing was a “naked example of Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror.”

Given the apparent circumstances of the elder Kim’s death, it’s really not too hard to reach the conclusion that Kim Jong-Un was behind this apparent murder. Indeed, it’s hard to see how such an operation could have been carried out without the direct orders of the younger Kim himself. Assuming that’s the case, it wouldn’t be the first time that Kim Jong Un has ordered the death of a family member. Late in the year in 2013, , Jang Song-thaek, an Uncle to Kim Jong Un who served as one of his top advisers in the years after he took power, was arrested in Pyongyang and executed, as were all of his living relatives with the exception of his wife, who is the sister of Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-Il. At the time, speculation from outside North Korea suggested that those killings were part of Kim’s effort to eliminate what may have been a threat to his power from members of the family with close ties to China, the same close time that Kim  Jong-nam was reported to have.

Given the fact that Jong-nam has been in exile for so long, it’s unclear exactly why it was seen as necessary to eliminate him now, but it’s possible that this is yet another sign that Kim Jong-un is continuing to consolidate power in his own hands and eliminate potential threats from among the Kim family and the military, which at this point seem to be the only possible avenues through which an outside power wishing to destabilize North Korea could act. Additionally, along with the mid-range missile test over the weekend that occurred while President Trump was having dinner in Florida with Japan’s Prime Minister, this could be part of a series of moves on the part of North Korea to test the new American President by demonstrating the regime’s ability to strike out beyond its borders notwithstanding sanctions that are already about as crippling as they can possibly be. It’s also possible, though, that the elder Kim’s death could be tied to recent media reports that he had tried to defect to South Korea at some point in the recent past, something that would be highly embarrassing and potentially dangerous for the Kim regime. Whatever the reason, though, it would seem that the Kim regime is getting ready to remind the new American President that it’s there.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    I think this last year has seen several defections of highly-placed people in the regime. You’re probably right in that this was an attempt to head off an even more embarrassing one.

  2. Lit3Bolt says:

    Did he at least get to go to Tokyo Disneyworld before he died?

  3. CSK says:

    Jongnam Style.

  4. Paul Hooson says:

    China had hoped that he could have become leader because of his moderate and Western views where he could have made the country more stable and integrated in the world. But, he had no political ambitions.

  5. Franklin says:

    @CSK: Nice.