North Korea has been trying to assassinate him for years.

Being the disobedient brother of one of the worst dictators in history is not without certain risks.

Just ask Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Jong-nam, 45, had been living in exile, reportedly spending time in Macau, for more than a decade after falling out with his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2001.


North Korean agents planned to assassinate Kim Jong-nam in 2010, but the plot fizzled out for unclear reasons. But they appear to have succeeded on Monday.

Reuters reports two women killed Kim Jong-nam in an airport in Malaysia on Monday. The report cites a Malaysian police official, so it’s pretty certain that Kim Jong-nam was indeed killed.

Where things gets hazier is how he was murdered. Officials say they haven’t yet determined the cause of death. But South Korean government sources told a major South Korean news outlet, TV Chosun, that two female agents from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, stabbed Kim Jong-nam with poison needles at Kuala Lumpur airport before making a getaway by taxi.

Kim Jong-nam (lower right, in shorts) sits next to his father, Kim Jong-il, in a photo taken circa 1981. |

No country is more sealed off from the world than North Korea, and as a result, the information that gets out is notoriously unreliable: Reports in 2013 that Kim Jong-un had executed a traitorous uncle by stripping him naked and feeding him to “a pack of starving dogs” proved totally untrue, but not before NBC News, The Daily Mail, USA Today, The Huffington Post and others had run with the story.

In other words, we should take the whole needle-murder plot line with a grain of salt.

Still, it’s likely the Switzerland-educated, Disneyland-loving Kim Jong-nam was indeed murdered by his temperamental half-brother. In 2012, reports surfaced that Kim Jong-nam was “not comfortable” with Kim Jong-un leading North Korea, and that he thought his brother’s reign would end in failure.

The North Korean regime is infamously intolerant of those who don’t toe the party line, and has shown in the past that even family members aren’t exempt from its bloody purges.