A SUSPECT implicated in the spy-novel-like killing of Kim Jong Nam has been identified as a son of a top North Korean envoy to Vietnam who used his fluent command of the Vietnamese language to lure Asian women into the murder.
Quoting sources on Wednesday, South Korean national news agency Yonhap news reported 33-year-old Ri Ji-hyon is the son of former North Korean ambassador to Hanoi Ri Hong who lived in Vietnam for about 10 years.
The suspect is said to have been instrumental in luring Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong into the assassination of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an airport in Malaysia on Feb 13.
The Vietnamese woman and another alleged accomplice, Indonesian citizen Siti Aisyah, reportedly smeared VX nerve agent, a banned chemical weapon on Jong Nam’s face at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, killing him within minutes.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said last week authorities confirmed the identity of Jong Nam’s body based on a DNA sample taken from one of his children.
The duo claimed the attack was a harmless prank for a reality television show.
Yonhap also quoted sources as saying Ji-hyon worked as a trainee diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in Vietnam for over a year in November 2009. At the embassy, the suspect had also worked as an interpreter, the report said.
The suspect is among four North Koreans wanted by Malaysian authorities after fleeing the Southeast Asian country to return to Pyongyang.
The two women are currently facing murder charges in Malaysia and faced the mandatory death penalty if convicted. Malaysian authorities also said eight North Koreans were suspected of involvement in the plot – one having been released from custody – and police are looking for three other North Koreans, including diplomat Hyon Kwang-song, Yonhap reported.
Malaysia’s investigation into the killing has sparked diplomatic tensions with North Korea and triggered a Mexican standoff between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang, after the latter prevented a group of nine Malaysian embassy officials and their family members from leaving the reclusive state.
Reports have suggested the two may well have been members of an elite group of female special agents employed by North Korea as spies.
North Korea has for over half a century been training young women to kill, maim, coerce, blackmail and have sex with targets through its “honey trap” spy programme.
The female agents, who are selected for their intelligence and beauty, receive up to eight years of training in secret camps in the mountains of North Korea.