Half-brother of North Korean dictator assassinated

Kim Jong Nam the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at Narita airport near Tokyo in 2011

The portly and gregarious Mr Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, was assaulted on Monday morning in the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport and died on the way to hospital, Malaysian police said.

"Please withdraw the order to punish me and my family", Jong Nam wrote in a letter to the North Korean dictator.

South Korea's foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports, and the country's intelligence agency could not be reached for comment by Reuters.

"Kim Jong-nam told KLIA staff that his face was feeling extremely painful [sic] because of an unidentified liquid sprayed at him".

The astonishing killing, which reportedly came at the hands of two female assassins, set off waves of speculation over whether North Korea had dispatched a hit squad to kill a man known for his drinking, gambling and complicated family life.

The 46-year-old was targeted on Monday in a shopping concourse at the airport.

Kim Jong Nam, 46, the estranged half-brother, was targeted on Monday at a low-priced carrier terminal at the airport, a senior Malaysian government official said.

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Interestingly, it was not the first time Mr Kim had travelled under an assumed identity: he was caught trying to enter Japan using a false passport in 2001.

Kim Jong-un had issued a "standing order" for his half-brother's assassination.

North Korea remains largely cut off from the world, with information tightly controlled by the government. "And while the two women are suspected to be members of (the North's) reconnaissance bureau, it is highly possible that more than ten people belonged to other bureaus that may be involved in this case", said Ahn Chan-il.

Twitter was also abuzz over a tweet by ABC News' Seoul bureau chief Joohee Cho claiming that Malaysian police had found the bodies of two women believed to be the operatives.

"We are very interested in the progress of the case", the spokesman said, while adding that he can not confirm whether Kim's family resides in Macau, a special administrative region of China. Two senior officials were executed with an anti-aircraft gun in August a year ago on Kim's orders, South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, citing people it did not identify. The woman was reportedly earlier seen with Kim Jong Nam.

It is believed he then went into hiding for fear of his younger brother, Jong-Un, seeing him as a political threat after rising to the leadership of North Korea.

North Korea also has a history of dispatching spies to kill high-level defectors critical of its system.

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