May 3, 2019 / 1:26 AM / 21 days ago

Murder at the airport: the brazen attack on Kim Jong Nam

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Early on a February morning two years ago, a balding man in a gray suit entered Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport, glanced up at the departures board and walked to check in for his flight to Macau. Moments later, his killers struck.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong Nam is escorted by police as he boards a plane upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport May 4, 2001. REUTERS

A few steps away from a Starbucks cafe and a Puffy Buffy Malaysian food stall, a woman stood in front of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, to distract him.

Her partner approached from behind, pulled from her handbag a cloth drenched in liquid VX, a chemical weapon, reached around his head and clamped it to his face.

That was enough to deliver deadly poison to the portly 46-year-old relative of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Carrying a backpack containing $100,000 and four North Korean passports, Kim Jong Nam, had been traveling under his pseudonym “Kim Chol”, police said.

After the attack, he approached a help desk and explained that someone seemed to have grabbed or held his face and now he felt dizzy. He was taken to a small glass-fronted surgery one floor down, near the arrivals area, but it was too late.

Kim Jong Nam died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Death at the airport interactive: tmsnrt.rs/2m7mwr4

How nerve agents work: tmsnrt.rs/2mjW0dZ

The assassination drew global attention for its audacity and diplomatic implications, with South Korean and Western officials accusing North Korea of a state-sponsored hit. Pyongyang denies involvement.

The brazen murder was caught on grainy CCTV footage broadcast around the world, yet many details remain a mystery.

On Friday, Malaysia released Doan Thi Huong, the 30-year-old Vietnamese woman who smothered Kim Jong Nam, after she pleaded guilty last month to a less serious charge of causing harm by dangerous means.

Huong, who was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, will return to Vietnam on Friday evening after being released early for good behavior, her lawyer Hisyam Teh said.

Huong’s Indonesian accomplice, Siti Aisyah, 26, was freed on March 11 after a Malaysian court dropped charges against her.

Both women say they believed they were participating in a television prank. During the attack, Huong was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “LOL”, or “laugh out loud”.

Their lawyers have maintained the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents.

Four North Koreans identified as suspects by Malaysian police left the country hours after the murder and remain at large.

Writing by Joe Brock; editing by Darren Schuettler

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