KUALA LUMPUR – A North Korea man has been arrested in Malaysia in connection with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half brother, as a diplomatic row erupted over the body.
Saying the first autopsy had been inconclusive, Malaysian authorities said they would perform a second post-mortem to try to ascertain what killed Kim Jong Nam, whose was sprayed with liquid in a brazen attack at Kuala Lumpur airport and who died en route to the hospital.
The decision to carry out a second autopsy will anger North Korea, which strongly objected to the first one and is insisting on having Kim Jong Nam’s body back, accusing the Malaysian government was acting on the orders of South Korea to “conceal something.”
A 47-year-old North Korean man was arrested at about 10 p.m. on Friday night in an apartment in Kuala Lumpur.
He was carrying an “I-Kad” an official identification card issued to foreign workers, that said he was Ri Jong Chol, a citizen of North Korea, according to a statement from Khalid Abu Bakar, inspector-general of the Royal Malaysian Police.
Two women were arrested earlier this week and accused of carrying out the attack, one Vietnamese passport, the other Indonesian, who led police to Ri Jong Chol, according to local news reports.
His arrest will heighten suspicions that Kim Jong Un, the 33-year-old third generation leader of North Korea, ordered the assassination of his older half-brother to remove a potential rival to his power.
Police are still looking for three other “foreign” men suspected of masterminding the attack.
According to reports, the Vietnamese woman, identified as 29-year-old Doan Thi Hoang, told Malaysian police that she was tricked into taking part in the attack, which she said she thought was a prank.
Indonesian newspapers offered a similar explanation for the other woman arrested, 25-year-old Siti Aishah.
One news outlet reported that she was approached by a mysterious man at the Kuala Lumpur nightclub and offered $100 to be involved in a “prank” that was rehearsed in the airport.
If North Korea was behind the killing, it was surprisingly amateurish for the regime, which has a history of using elite agents in such attacks. But the three suspects were quickly apprehended, with Doan Huong, apparently abandoned by the others, arrested when she returned to the same airport terminal to take a flight to Vietnam.
Local officials have said that it is still too early to conclude that foreign agents had killed Kim Jong Nam as the investigation into the complicated case was ongoing, but South Korea’s intelligence chief had squarely laid the blame on Kim Jong Un, who he said had issed a “standing order” to have his half-brother killed.
A second autopsy on Kim Jong Nam’s body started on Friday night after the first proved inconclusive, according to news reports quoting unnamed officials.
The North Korean ambassador to Malaysia said that North Korea would “categorically reject” the results of the autopsy, which he said was performed over its objections and with its officials excluded. He called for the body, whose identity he did not mention, to be released immediately.
Saying North Korea would “respond strongly to the moves of the hostile forces toward us with their intent to besmirch the image of our republic, by politicizing this incident” and would sue Malaysia in an international court.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters Thursday that Malaysia would release the body only after the official procedures are followed. “After all the police and medical procedures are completed, we may release the body to the next of kin through the embassy.
Malaysia is one of the very few countries that does not require a visa for North Koreans, so this is a popular destination for them.