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Analysis. The half-brother of the North Korean dictator, best known for trying to sneak into Japan with a Dominican passport, was apparently murdered at the airport in Kuala Lumpur.

What we know and don’t know about Kim Jong-nam’s death

Kim Jong-nam, the first son of Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was killed Tuesday at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to preliminary reports from the Malaysian police, Kim was injured after “contact” with someone who pushed his head back. He asked for assistance and was taken to the airport infirmary, and he ultimately died in the ambulance while being transported to a hospital.

According to initial speculation, not confirmed by police, he was killed by two women using a poison-tipped needle. The news is significant because Kim Jong-nam (who apparently had with him a passport under the alias Kim Chol) was for years the designated heir of Kim Jong-il until 2001, when he brought the family disgrace: arrested in Tokyo with a fake Dominican passport trying illegally to enter Japan to visit Disneyland.

It was an affront to Pyongyang and the end of a political career for the young heir. Since then he has lived in exile in Macau, Singapore and China, protected, it seems, by the Chinese authorities. But he was constantly under the threat of his brother, the current leader Kim Jong-un, who took the throne instead of just Kim Jong-nam on the occasion of the Dear Leader’s death in 2011.

Obviously, this being North Korea, the brother’s death has aroused all kinds of rumors. Trying to stick to the few verified facts, we know that Kim Jong-nam might have traveled to North Korea in 2012, although this isn’t absolutely certain. For sure, however, the 45-year-old son of the first marriage of Kim Jong-il, had excellent contacts with his uncle Jang Song-Thaek, who was once powerful in North Korea, but then disgraced, arrested and later executed at the end of 2013.

And in December 2013, Kim Jong-nam’s son, Kim Han-sol, a student in Paris, was placed under protective security by French police during a purge underway in Pyongyang. This does not mean that the instigator of the recent murder in Malaysia is his powerful half-brother, but Kim Jong-nam had expressed harsh criticisms of his leadership, branding the Korean state as a dictatorship and speaking against the dynastic succession of the country.

Kim Jong-nam was nicknamed the “little general.” Born from his father’s relationship with actress Sung Hae-rim, Kim Jong-nam was a computer expert, it is said, spoke fluent Japanese and had studied in Russia and Switzerland. After his studies he returned to Pyongyang and was in charge of North Korea’s information technology policy before going into exile in 2001.

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