South Korea spy chief says North targeted Kim Jong Nam for years before assassination.
Kim Jong Un’s brother, who was killed in Malaysia on Monday, begged the North Korean leader to spare his life after escaping an earlier assassination attempt, the head of South Korean intelligence said on Wednesday.
Kim Jong Nam wrote to the supreme leader in 2012 to ask him to spare his life and those of his family, Lee Byung-ho, director of the National Intelligence Service, told lawmakers in Seoul.
Mr Lee said Pyongyang had been attempting to kill the elder Kim, who was once seen as the heir-apparent to the North Korean leadership, for five years.
Malaysian police said a 28-year-old woman with a Vietnamese passport was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the investigation.
The 46-year-old Kim’s grisly death speaks volumes about the nature of the reclusive regime and the boundaries it will cross, both familial and geographic, to solidify its position.
For observers of the North, the assassination is a show of absolute power, a display of the dictator’s unshackled might and a warning to domestic rivals.
“If it was necessary for him to remove his brother, it implies Kim Jong Un worries about the possibility of elites waging a campaign to replace him,” said Kim Jaechun, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul. “Particularly because Kim Jong Nam was older and age is very important in Korean culture.”
But while the killing may help the North Korean leader consolidate power at home, it looks likely to strain ties abroad.
“[Kim Jong Nam’s death] will not do any good for relations between China and North Korea,” said Professor Kim. “Kim Jong Nam was more pro-China. Maybe they thought they could establish a moderate regime under him, if Kim Jong Un became too much.”
The incident is also likely to undermine ties with Malaysia, one of the few countries that is open to North Korea.
Last week Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang, which maintain diplomatic relations, signed a memorandum of understanding on deepening cultural exchanges.
Najib Razak, Malaysian prime minister, has ordered a thorough investigation into the apparent assassination and authorities have made arrangements to prevent potential interference in the post mortem examination, according to a person close to the Malaysian PM’s office.
North Korean officials, in a black limousine bearing their country’s flag, arrived at the Kuala Lumpur hospital where the examination was being carried out on Wednesday afternoon amid speculation that Pyongyang was attempting to block any investigation.