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Slain N. Korean begged for mercy after previous assassination attempt, agency says

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 16, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother reportedly sent a letter pleading for mercy after an assassination attempt five years before he was killed in a reported poison attack this week in Malaysia.

The detail was the latest twist in the mystery surrounding Kim Jong Nam’s death as speculation swirled that he was slain by a regime-ordered hit squad while waiting at Kuala Lumpur airport for a flight to Macau.

Malaysian authorities have detained three suspects, including two women who were identified using closed-circuit TV footage from the airport, The Associated Press reported.

However, investigators have not confirmed the cause of death or who was behind it. An autopsy was conducted over the objections of the North Koreans, but the results have not been released.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers that the North had been trying for five years to kill the older sibling, and made a “genuine” attempt in 2012, according to reporters briefed during Wednesday’s closed-door meeting.

That attempt apparently scared Kim enough that he sent a letter to Kim Jong Un begging for the lives of him and his family, the National Intelligence Service said. “I hope you cancel the order for the punishment of me and my family,” the letter was quoted as saying. “We have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, and we know that the only way to escape is committing suicide.”

Kim Jong Un, 33, assumed power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died of a heart attack in 2011, but he was the second choice.

As the first-born son, Kim Jong Nam was long considered the third-generation heir-apparent in the family dynasty until he fell out of favor with his father after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport in 2001, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

In his bid to consolidate power, Kim Jong Un has had many officials executed or purged in a so-called “reign of terror.” They included his once-powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek who was killed in 2013.

Kim Jong Nam had a reputation for gambling and drinking and appeared to be an unlikely rival considering he has spent so many years living abroad. He had once been critical of his sibling’s rule but has been keeping a low profile in recent years.

“Jong Nam was not a political threat, but it might be a warning to North Korea’s expatriate community — not defectors per se but (North Korean) nationals who live outside the country,” said Michael Madden, an expert on North Korea’s leadership.

South Korea, which has seen a sharp uptick in defectors under Kim Jong Un’s rule, wasn’t taking any chances.

Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn called for security to be boosted for dozens of high-profile defectors, who are frequently outspoken in their criticism of the Pyongyang regime.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul also sent notices urging caution to all who have fled to the South from the communist state.

“Recently Kim Jong Nam was killed in a Malaysian airport, and we urge you to take care of your own security and that of your families ... particularly if you’re traveling in the Southeast Asian region,” it said.

North Koreans, meanwhile, celebrated Kim Jong Il’s birthday, which is a national holiday known as “Day of the Shining Star.” The country’s official media have not mentioned Kim Jong Nam’s death.

The two Koreas, which are divided by the world’s most fortified border, are technically still at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

In this June 4, 2010 file photo, Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, waves after his first-ever interview with South Korean media in Macau, China.
AP PHOTO/JOONGANG SUNDAY VIA JOONGANG ILBO, SHIN IN-SEOP

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