The suspected assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother has caused concern over the safety of the man’s young son Kim Han-sol.
The concerns come as Malaysian police confirmed they had detained a woman with Vietnam travel papers and were looking for a “few” other foreign suspects in connection with Kim Jong-nam’s death.
The woman detained at Kuala Lumpur airport was identified from CCTV footage at the airport and was alone when she was apprehended, police said in a statement.
Media had published a grainy CCTV-captured image of a young woman wearing a white shirt with the letters “LOL” on the front.
Documents she carried were in the name of Doan Thi Huong, showed a birth date of May 1998 and birthplace of Nam Dinh, Vietnam, police said.
“Police are looking for a few others, all foreigners,” Deputy Inspector-General Noor Rashid Ibrahim told Reuters, declining to give their nationalities or gender.
Meanwhile, North Korean government officials in Malaysia objected to an autopsy being performed on the body of Kim Jong-nam, Malaysian government sources aware of the discussions say.
The officials requested that the body be released to them right away, but Malaysia rejected the request, several sources said.
No decision has been taken on whether the body of Kim Jong-nam will be handed over to North Korea, the sources added.
South Korean intelligence suggested that North Korea’s unpredictable leader had issued a “standing order” for the assassination of his portly and gregarious older brother, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.
Kim Jong-nam’s bespectacled son Kim Han-sol, 22, who has in the past publicly described his uncle as a “dictator”, is now feared to be at risk of becoming a target.
Professor Gordon Flake, Perth USAsia Centre CEO at the University of Western Australia, told The New Daily that Han-sol was “in danger” following his father’s suspicious death.
“Kim Han-sol is of no short-term threat to Kim Jong-Un … but yes, he is in danger,” Professor Flake said.
“To my knowledge there has been no political activity by Kim Han-sol.”
It would not be the first time that security measures had been taken to ensure the safety of the North Korean leader’s half-nephew.
Han-sol was placed under police protection in late 2013 when he was spotted by South Korean journalists at a French University.
But in an interview for Finnish television in 2012, Han-sol admitted he visited North Korea every summer to “keep in touch” with his relatives.
Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat said Han-sol’s father Kim Jong-nam had been planning to travel to Macau, China, on Monday when he “fell ill” at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
It is understood Kim Jong-nam’s death resulted from a James Bond-like attack involving poison darts or a spray toxin, but his exact cause of death is yet to be confirmed by a post mortem.
Multiple South Korean media reports said Kim Jong-nam was poisoned, allegedly by two female North Korean assassins.
TV Chosun, citing “multiple government sources,” said the women were believed to be North Korean agents who fled from the scene in a taxi.
Professor Flake said the 46-year-old Kim Jong-nam was the son of Kim Jong-il’s first mistress, an actress named Song Hye-rim.
She had already been a married woman when the couple first met and their son’s birth was kept a secret.
There had been no discussion of Kim Jong-nam in the public domain until the “infamous” Disney episode in 2001 when he was exiled from the regime after attempting to visit Tokyo Disneyland with a fake passport, eliminating his chances at succession.
Meet the Kim family
Founder of North Korea Kim Il-sung had three children with his first wife Kim Jong-suk, including Kim Jong-il and Kim Kyung-hui, followed by three more children with a second wife.
His reign endured until he died of a heart attack in 1994.
His daughter Kyung-hui married Chang Song-thaek, a man who was later violently executed as a “traitor” in 2014.
Il-sung’s successor Kim Jong-il had two wives and a number of mistresses.
His first child Kim Jong-nam was kept a secret for some time, while his first daughter was born four years later to another woman, his first offical wife Kim Young-suk.
He later became acquainted with Ko Yong-hui, who bore him three children including Kim Jong-un, as well as older son Kim Jong-chul and younger sister Kim Yo-jong.
Jong-chul, who is older than Jong-un, is believed to have been cast aside as a potential successor due to his effeminate manner and apparent lack of interest in political matters.
‘Threat’ to powerful reign
Professor Flake said that for the duration of Kim Jong-il’s reign, there was no mention of his various wives, scandalous relationships or children born outside of wedlock.
He said these details did not surface until Kim Jong-nam’s exile.
“He has always appeared to be a pretty normal jovial sort of character,” Prof Flake said of Jong-nam.
“He has said publicly that he has never met his half-brother Kim Jong-un. My understanding is that they had no contact.
“But there is an underlying dynamic that we see time and time again where a dictator is always going to be wary of competing powers and wary of the blood line.
“Needless to say, it was not a big happy family.”
Deakin University’s David Hundt, a senior lecturer in international relations, has posed that if indeed the death was a North Korean-inflicted assassination, there may be more to Jong-nam’s death than meets the eye.
“In a Confucian society, there is an expectation that the older son would want seniority. We can assume there would have always been tension in the background,” Mr Hundt said.
“But then the natural question is, if he was perceived a threat, why didn’t something happen sooner?
“One theory is that he was siphoning off some of the regime’s wealth. Or it could be that because he was in Malaysia and away from the protection of the Chinese, he was considered fair game.”