N. Korean Leader Kim Jong Un's Half-Brother Is Dead. But Why? : Parallels "It probably is the strangest story that I have encountered about North Korean elites and the Kim family," says Michael Madden, who runs the site North Korea Leadership Watch.
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N. Korean Leader Kim Jong Un's Half-Brother Is Dead. But Why?

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N. Korean Leader Kim Jong Un's Half-Brother Is Dead. But Why?

N. Korean Leader Kim Jong Un's Half-Brother Is Dead. But Why?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I mean, this is really the stuff of spy novels here. Malaysian media are reporting that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's older brother was killed at the Kuala Lumpur airport in a poison attack. Here's NPR's Elise Hu.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Fifteen years ago, this fuzzy footage caught Kim Jong Nam exiting a police van at Tokyo's Narita Airport. He was detained for traveling under a false passport. Outside this incident, Kim has lead a quiet existence, especially given he's the oldest son of Kim Jong Il, North Korea's late dictator.

MICHAEL MADDEN: You would live anonymously too if people were gunning for you.

HU: That's Michael Madden, a scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who runs the site North Korean Leadership Watch (ph).

MADDEN: Kim Jong Nam has lived a very leisurely life, primarily in a condo that the Kim family owns in Macau.

HU: Until yesterday. While in transit at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, something caused his sudden death. Malaysian media report closed circuit cameras caught two women covering a traveler's face with cloth. Police say emergency responders rushed the man to the hospital but he died en route. Malaysian media say it was Kim.

Early this morning, police arrested one woman at the airport in connection with the death, but they say she was alone.

MADDEN: It probably is the strangest story that I have encountered about North Korea elites and the Kim family and Kim family politics.

HU: In South Korea, a confirmation came from Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEONG JOON-HEE: (Through interpreter) The government is certain that the murdered individual is Kim Jong Nam. We have not confirmed the exact cause of death.

HU: He could have died of natural causes. But if he was killed, theories why run the gamut - that he was punished for skimming from the Kim family fortune or that he's the scapegoat in a power play by elites wanting to get back into leader Kim Jong Un's good graces. But they're all just guesses, says Madden.

MADDEN: Nobody knows - and I don't think we will know the full story about the death of Kim Jong Nam for many years.

HU: As with so much about North Korea, even a Kim's demise is dressed in mystery.

Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.

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