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NIS chief calls Kim’s murder ‘terrorism’

Malaysian police look for alternatives if next of kin doesn’t show up
Feb 28,2017
이미지뷰
Lee Byung-ho
The chief of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said Monday the assassination of Kim Jong-nam was an act of “state-orchestrated terrorism” by North Korea’s ministries of foreign affairs and state security.

The statement was made public by Rep. Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Liberty Korea Party, who heads the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee. Lee Byung-ho, director of NIS, held a closed-door briefing for lawmakers on the committee, the second of its kind on the killing of Kim Jong-nam.

Of eight North Korean suspects identified by Malaysian police so far, four are from the Ministry of State Security, North Korea’s secret police agency, and two are from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, according to Rep. Lee.

The suspects from the Foreign Affairs Ministry were Ri Ji-hyon, 33, and Hong Song-hac, 34. Those from the State Security Ministry included O Jong-gil, 55; Ri Jae-nam, 57; and Hyon Kwang-song, 44; one person wasn’t mentioned.

Hyon was identified by Malaysian police last week as a second secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, but the NIS denied Monday he was a diplomat.

Ri Ji-hyon, Hong Song-hac, O Jong-gil and Ri Jae-nam all returned to Pyongyang on Feb. 17. Hyon is expected to be hiding in Malaysia’s North Korean Embassy.

The NIS chief also reportedly said that Kim Won-hong, former head of the State Security Ministry, was sacked and is now detained for giving false reports to leader Kim Jong-un, among several reasons.

Five senior officials in the ministry were recently executed by an antiaircraft machine gun, he added.

The latest information comes as Pyongyang denies any wrongdoing in the case and Malaysia has yet to mention any traces that the North Korean leadership was directly involved. South Korean authorities repeatedly stated that Kim Jung-un gave the order to kill his half brother.

On another front, a South Korean diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, on Monday that Russia rebuffed South Korea’s request to detain four North Korean suspects who fled Kuala Lumpur after the assassination of Kim Jong-nam and passed through Vladivostok to arrive in Pyongyang.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the NIS tracked their itinerary and asked Russian authorities to stop them from boarding their flight, but was rejected.

It is believed that the four men flew from Kuala Lumpur International Airport shortly after the Feb. 13 killing for the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

They then flew to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and to Vladivostok before landing in the North Korean capital on Feb. 17.

Meanwhile, Malaysian health authorities have completed the autopsy report on Kim Jong-nam and will soon hand it over to police, said Malaysia’s Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam, according to The New Straits Times, a Malaysian news outlet.

“The amount of the VX [in his body] was so high that it affected his heart and lung,” the minister said Sunday during a press conference. “The absorption level was so rapid. It resulted in him being killed from 15 to 20 minutes upon contraction with the lethal chemical.”

Subramaniam reportedly added that if the next-of-kin fails to show up, the ministry would have to use other methods to ascertain the identity of the deceased, according to The New Straits Times.

“We could use dental profiling as well as comparing him to his pictures where we could identify him by the identification marks such as moles.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHA SE-HYEON [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]