North Korea: Expert on nuclear and military capabilities
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Ten years ago this week, Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack at the age of 69. A teary-eyed announcer, in a statement televised across the country, struggled to hide her sadness as she said he had died of physical and mental over-work. Millions of North Koreans were “engulfed in indescribable sadness”, according to KNCA, the state news agency.
Pictures emerged of people weeping openly in Pyongyang, often in large groups, slumped on the floor.
His son, Kim Jong-un, was announced as the “great successor”, who North Koreans should unite behind.
The next ten years would prove to be a rollercoaster ride for both North Korea and the world.
Many experts have since noted that Kim Jong-un has successfully weaponised his country to an extent that his father never did.
Several times, he has threatened the world with nuclear war, while briefly suggesting he was willing to make peace after meeting with former President Donald Trump.
When Jong-il died, it was unclear what direction he may have wanted North Korea to go in.
A few months following his death, however, extracts from his final testament were reportedly obtained by two think tanks in South Korea, detailing his future legacy for the state.
He requested that the country renounce war with its long-standing opponent in the south, according to extracts obtained and made public by the Sejong Institute, a South Korean think tank.
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However, he also ordered North Korea continue developing weapons of mass destruction, in extracts obtained by Lee Yun-keol, a high-profile North Korean defector and head of the NK Strategic Information Service Centre, a Seoul-based think tank.
One of the standout requests concerned his children from previous marriages and how they should be protected.
He asked that special care be extended to his eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, and that he be permitted a “comfortable life abroad”, according to SinoNK, a journal dedicated to the study of Northeast Asia.
Yet, what unfolded could not be further from Kim Jong-il’s wishes.
The half-brother of Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam was killed in an attack in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, in 2017.
Waiting for a flight, the 45-year-old was approached by two women in separate incidents moments apart and smothered with what he told the receptionists was a liquid — it later turned out to be the deadly nerve agent VX.
He was taken to a nearby hospital, but a later autopsy determined that he likely died within 20 minutes of being exposed to the nerve agent.
Two women, Siti Aisyah, from Indonesia, and Doan Thi Huong, from Vietnam, were arrested, with Ms Aisyah later claiming she was told she was taking part in a prank and believed the substance used was baby oil.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, she said that she was recruited by men who she believed to be TV producers, who told her she could become a Youtube star by carrying out the pranks for viral videos.
As reported by several publications, including Business Insider, those men were believed to be North Korean secret agents, and recruited Ms Aisyah to assassinate Kim Kong-nam on orders from Kim Jong-un.
An investigation by The Guardian titled, ‘How North Korea got away with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam’, explored the intricate nature of the assassination.
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It noted how, as the attack was carried out, “at least four North Korean agents were hiding nearby to witness the public killing and ready with a back-up plan if anything went wrong”.
In the hours after the attack, those agents passed through immigration checkpoints and boarded flights out of the country, “accompanied by a North Korean diplomat”.
The report continued: “Their flight routes back to Pyongyang were carefully calculated to avoid countries that may ground their planes and arrest the men.”
Vipin Narang, a politics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “The reason to do it publicly is to leave a calling card, to show the world that Kim Jong-un is not afraid to use a weapon of mass destruction at a crowded international airport.”
The half-brothers did not get on, with Kim Jong-nam openly against Kim Jong-un’s rule.
Kim Jong-nam was, in fact, believed to be a CIA informant before he was assassinated, and lived most of his life outside North Korea.
Ms Thi Huong, the Vietnamese woman who was accused of the murder, was released two years after her imprisonment.
She accepted a deal with Malaysian prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge “causing injury”.
Ms Aisyah was similarly released, later saying: “I feel happy. I did not know this would happen. I did not expect it.”
Both faced the death penalty if found guilty of murder.
Since his birth in 1971, Kim Jong-nam was slated to rule North Korea.
But after being sent to a Swiss boarding school, he developed a taste for luxury and a high-brow lifestyle.
In 2001, an incident involving him occurred, which is thought to have brought shame and humiliation on North Korea and his family.
Arriving at Narita International Airport in Japan, accompanied by two women and a four-year-old boy, identified as his son, he was detained and arrested for trying to enter the country on a forged Dominican passport, using a Chinese alias.
After being detained, he was deported to China, where he said he was travelling to Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
The incident caused his father to cancel a planned visit to China, due to embarrassment, and Kim Jong-nam’s reputation never recovered.
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