SEOUL, South Korea — Officials from North Korea's secret police and Foreign Ministry were involved in the killing of the estranged half brother of the country's leader, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers on Monday.
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Ever since Kim Jong Nam, the eldest brother of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, was first reported assassinated, the South Korean government has held the North responsible. On Monday, the National Intelligence Service in Seoul provided more details of what it described as state-sponsored terrorism, saying that four of the eight North Koreans identified as suspects by Malaysian authorities were agents from North Korea's Ministry of State Security, the country's secret police.
Speaking on Monday in a closed-door parliamentary hearing, Lee Byung Ho, director of the National Intelligence Service, said that two other suspects worked for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The remaining two were affiliated with Air Koryo, the North's state-run airline company, and Singwang Economics and Trading General Corp., Lee said, according to two lawmakers who attended the briefing. Singwang is among North Korean companies facing U.N. sanctions.
Malaysian authorities have said that Kim Jong Nam was killed by an extremely toxic nerve agent known as VX. They said that the North Koreans had hired and trained two women, one from Indonesia, the other from Vietnam, to attack Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The women smeared his face with the chemical while he was waiting to check in for a flight to Macau, where he and his family had a home, they said.
The two women are now in police custody in Kuala Lumpur.
Lee, the South Korean intelligence chief, was quoted by the lawmakers as saying that the eight North Koreans, working as two four-member teams, converged in Kuala Lumpur to carry out the Feb. 13 assassination.
He said that Ri Jae Nam, a state security agent, and Ri Ji Hyon, a Foreign Ministry official, had brought Doan Thi Huong, a 28-year-old Vietnamese woman, into the assassination plot, while Siti Aisyah, a 25-year-old Indonesian woman, was hired by O Jong Gil, a state security agent, and by Hong Song Hac, a Foreign Ministry official.
The four North Koreans who made up the assassination team left Malaysia the same day Kim Jong Nam was killed and are believed to be back in their country, Lee was quoted as saying. Malaysian police have confirmed their departure.
Hyon Kwang Song, a senior diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and three other North Koreans worked as a support team, Lee told the lawmakers, keeping track of Kim Jong Nam's whereabouts and providing logistical assistance. Hyon worked for the Ministry of State Security, he said.
Hyon and the Air Koryo employee, Kim Uk Il, remain at the embassy in Malaysia.
A third member of the support team, identified as Ri Jong Chol, has been arrested in Kuala Lumpur. The fourth, identified as Ri Ji U, is believed to be at large in Malaysia.
North Korea's Ministry of State Security specializes in ferreting out people whose loyalty to Kim Jong Un's totalitarian regime is in doubt. Kim Jong Un is believed to have used the ministry in the arrests and executions of senior officials, including an uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was executed on charges of corruption and sedition in 2013. The ministry also runs a network of prison camps.
During the intelligence briefing on Monday, Lee told the lawmakers that five senior officials affiliated with the State Security Ministry had been executed with anti-aircraft guns. He also said that Gen. Kim Won Hong, who was removed as chief of the secret police in January, was in detention as part of a purge.
Lee said that Gen. Kim Won Hong and his five deputies had angered Kim Jong Un by filing false reports, but he did not elaborate. The South's intelligence agency had said earlier that Gen. Kim Won Hong was dismissed on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
He was the latest in a series of high-ranking party and military officials that Kim Jong Un has fired, demoted or executed in efforts to consolidate his power through what South Korean officials have called a "reign of terror."
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