Unanswered questions about Kim Jong-nam’s death

By Kshitij Kumar

While waiting to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Macau, Kim Jong-nam — estranged brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un – was attacked by two women from behind. CCTV footage shows the women rubbing something on Jong-nam’s face, a few minutes after which he suffered a stroke that killed him. South Korean spy agency and US intelligence forces believe that this assassination was ordered by the dictator himself, who saw his brother as a threat.

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Statues of Kim Sang-il and his successor Kim Jong-il in the North Korean capital

What was used to killed Kim Jong-nam?

The liquid that was rubbed on his face is yet to be identified. It maybe that the two women used different liquids that became lethal when rubbed together. It is bewildering how the liquid killed Jong-nam but did not affect the women who rubbed it on him with bare-hands.

Was it mission completely carried out by North Korea?

Since the attack, the Malaysian police has arrested four different people of North Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese origin. Some believe that North Korean operatives might have been helped by agencies from other countries.

Why was he killed in 2017, and not when he first criticised Kim Jong-un?

Kim Jong-Nam was silent on his father’s rule, but spoke out against dictatorship as soon as his brother took power in 2011. He said the world will see Kim Jong-un’s rule as a joke and that the leader’s corrupt and single-minded policies will collapse North Korea. However, he denied any political ambition on his part and lived in relative obscurity. Those with contacts in the North believe that Kim Jong-un is getting insecure about his rule and felt the people of North Korea, or perhaps even China, could choose his brother as an alternative. Some observers also feel that it is possible Kim Jong-Nam had assassins following him for years, before finally pulling the tiger. Others feel this was just a way for Kim Jong-un to irk China, which had always protected his elder brother.

The identity and legacy of the victim

North Korea has refused to acknowledge Kim Jong-nam’s status as a member of the ruling family and the press has only called him as a citizen of Korea. However, North Korea continues to pressurise Malaysia to send back his body. North Korean operative allegedly tried to break into the morgue where his body is kept. On the other hand, nobody from Jong-nam’s own family has come out in public to either claim his body or condemn the attack.


Even as we wait to get clarity on the finer details of the murder, one thing is unclear – North Korea under Kim Jong-un is an unpredictable and violent nation that is capable of doing anything to protect its leadership.

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