Four North Korean Suspects Fled Malaysia After Kim Killing: Police

Anis Natasha
Kuala Lumpur
170219_MY_NK_SUSPECT_1000.jpg Royal Malaysia Police deputy inspector-general Noor Rashid Ibrahim speaks about North Korean suspect Ri Jae Nam (top) during a press conference as Selangor state police chief Abdul Samah Mat looks on, at national police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 19, 2017.

Updated at 12:11 p.m. ET on 2017-02-19

Malaysian police are seeking four North Korean suspects who left the country on the day the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was murdered, a top police official told a press conference on Sunday.

The four men arrived in Malaysia between Jan. 31and Feb. 7, Royal Malaysia Police Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim said at police headquarters in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

"We can confirm that the four left the country on Feb. 13, the same day the incident happened,” he said. "We are cooperating with Interpol and relevant bodies in the region to track them down.”

Police identified the four as Rhi Ji Hyon, 33, Hong Song Hac, 34, O Jong Gil, 55 and Ri Jae Nam, 57.

According to a source close to the investigation, the four men were already back in Pyongyang, having flown first to Jakarta from Kuala Lumpur.

"From Jakarta, they flew to Dubai and stopped over at Vladivostok before heading for their last destination, North Korea. They arrived in Pyongyang Feb. 17," the source told BenarNews, speaking on condition of anonymity. Vladivostok is a city in Russia.

Four in custody

Kim Jong-Nam was declared dead at Putrajaya Hospital on Feb. 13 after being transferred from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 where he sought medical assistance at the airport service counter.

Kim, who was supposed to take an Air Asia flight to Macau at 10:50 a.m. on that day, was approached by two women who allegedly sprayed liquid at him and wiped his face with cloth.

Four men were captured on closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera observing the assassination from a nearby restaurant, according to the New Straits Times, a Malaysian newspaper.

Police earlier this week arrested a woman named as Doan Thi Huong, 28, of Vietnam; Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, 25; and Malaysian national Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin, 26, identified by police as Siti’s boyfriend. Both women were positively identified from CCTV footage taken at the airport around the time of Kim’s death.

Malaysian police arrested a North Korean suspect, Ri Jong Chol, 47, late on Friday, bringing the number of suspects in custody to four.

In Sunday’s press conference, Malaysian authorities disclosed that Doan arrived in Malaysia on Feb. 4 from Hanoi, while Siti two days earlier from Batam, Indonesia, but the two had been working in Malaysia previously at an entertainment outlet and spa center, respectively.

Police are looking for three other suspects to assist the investigation, a North Korean national and two others whose identities were still being established, Noor Rashid said.

In Seoul, a top official said Sunday’s announcement showed that North Korean agents carried out the assassination.

"We believe the North Korean regime is behind this incident considering five suspects are North Koreans," Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman at the South Korea's Unification Ministry that handles inter-Korea affairs, told a briefing, according to Reuters.

South Korea had already pointed the finger of blame at North Korea, citing a "standing order" from Kim Jong Un to kill his sibling and a failed assassination bid in 2012 after he criticized the regime.

Deadline for next-of-kin

Malaysian officials had yet to release an autopsy report stating the cause of death. Results of pathology and toxicology tests are still pending, Noor Rashid said. But he confirmed that police were treating the incident as a murder case.

“At the moment, I cannot say the cause of death,” he said.

Noor Rashid said Malaysian police were looking for Kim’s next-of-kin to identify the body, and gave relatives two weeks to come forward.

“As for now, he is identified as Kim Chol, aged 47, from North Korea, based on his passport found on the deceased,” the official said.

“The most eligible to identify the body physically is the next-of-kin. I have given a timeframe, and if they still don’t come forward, then we will have to look for the next option.”

North Korea lambasted Malaysia on Friday for refusing to release the body, and said it would not accept the results of any post-mortem conducted by Malaysian authorities.

In a statement outside the morgue of the main hospital in Kuala Lumpur, North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol, appearing furious, accused Malaysia of "trying to conceal something" and "colluding with the hostile forces” over the case.

“They can say whatever that they want to say. We are just following our procedures and regulations,” Noor Rashid said Sunday.

A Royal Malaysia Police handout picture shows four suspects arrested thus far in the killing of Kim Jong-Nam: Malaysian Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin (top L), Doan Thi Huong (top R) of Vietnam, North Korean Ri Jong Chol (bottom L) and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia (bottom R). [AFP]

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