SEOUL — Malaysian police are searching for a diplomat and an airline employee, adding to the list of North Koreans suspected of involvement in the brazen, public assassination of the half brother of the reclusive nation’s leader.
In the latest twist in a plot straight out of a movie, an attempted break-in was reported at the hospital morgue where Kim Jong Nam’s body is being held against North Korea’s wishes. Photos from the scene showed heavy security around the hospital, with armed men in SWAT-like gear.
Speculation over the killing of Kim Jong Nam in the Feb. 13 attack at Kuala Lumpur International Airport has centered on his estranged half brother’s regime in Pyongyang.
Malaysian police said Wednesday that they wanted to speak to Hyon Kwang Song, the second secretary at the North Korean Embassy in Malaysia, and Kim Uk Il, who works for Air Koryo. The state airline used to fly between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur, but the route was suspended in 2014.
It was the clearest indication yet that Malaysia suspects state involvement in the killing.
North Korea Thursday squarely accused South Korea of masterminding Kim Jong Nam’s death, and Malaysia of being duped into doing Seoul’s dirty work.
An extraordinary 763-word diatribe attributed to the Korean Jurists’ Committee said what “merits more serious attention is the fact that the unjust acts of the Malaysian side are timed to coincide with the anti-DPRK conspiratorial racket launched by the South Korean authorities.”
The statement, which used the official abbreviation for North Korea, was published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency Thursday.
Both of the newly-named suspects are still believed to be in Malaysia, said Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar. He added that he has asked the embassy to locate them. “I have requested the two suspects to come forward to assist in the investigation, failing which police will issue a warrant for their arrest,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
The pair brings to eight the number of North Korean suspects in the case. They include a 30-year-old man identified as Ri Ji U who is believed to still be in Malaysia, police said. No further details about him have been released.
A North Korean man, a scientist who had been living in Kuala Lumpur for the past year, is in custody, and Malaysian police have named four other North Koreans whom they want to question in connection with the killing. A police official said all four left Kuala Lumpur on the day of the attack and took a circuitous route — via Dubai and Vladivostok, Russia — back to Pyongyang.
Kuala Lumpur has asked that the men be returned for questioning, vowing that it will continue to investigate the killing even if it takes years. Malaysia’s ambassador to Pyongyang arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, having been recalled for “consultations.”
North Korea and Malaysia have become locked in an increasingly acrimonious diplomatic row over the slaying, with the North Korean Embassy objecting to an autopsy being conducted against its wishes and accusing the Malaysian government of trying to make Pyongyang look bad.
The Kuala Lumpur government has responded that it is following established procedures following a suspicious death and that it will adhere to the rule of law.
The initial results of the autopsy ruled out a heart attack and did not show any evidence of puncture wounds on the body. Authorities are now waiting for toxicology results.
Kim Jong Nam, who had lived outside North Korea for about 15 years and was believed to have met his younger half brother only once, was checking in for a flight at the Kuala Lumpur airport last week when two women ambushed him, smearing some kind of substance on his face.
Security camera footage shows them running away afterward, while Kim sought help from airport staff, miming what had happened and then being escorted to the airport medical clinic. The 45-year-old was put in an ambulance but died on the way to a hospital.
Malaysian authorities have said they will not release his body without DNA identification. Kim Jong Nam’s 22-year-old son, Kim Han Sol, was reported to have flown into Kuala Lumpur on Monday night but has not been seen, and authorities said no one has come in to claim the body or provide a DNA sample.
Armed men have been stationed around the hospital morgue after what Khalid described as an attempted break-in. “We had to take precautions,” he said at a news conference. “We will not allow anyone to tamper with the mortuary.”
The police chief also rejected the alleged assertions by the two women arrested for carrying out the attack, one Vietnamese and the other Indonesian, that they were tricked into taking part, thinking that they were playing a prank on someone as part of a TV comedy show.
Khalid said the women clearly knew that they were involved in a serious situation, with security camera footage showing them rushing to the bathroom immediately after the attack to wash the toxic substance off their hands.