Kim Jong Nam "ambushed" at Kuala Lumpur Airport: State Police

Kim Jong Nam

South Korea's national news agency Yonhap quoted a source as saying agents of the North's spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, carried out the assassination on Monday by taking advantage of a security loophole between Jong-Nam's bodyguards and Malaysian police at the airport.

The precise details of the man's death might be hard to confirm for some time to come, if ever. Malaysians and North Koreans can visit each other's countries without the need for a visa.

Understood to be Kim Jong-Il's heir apparent as his eldest son, he was overlooked for the succession after a botched attempt to enter Japan in May 2001 on a false Dominican Republic passport. And Kim Jong-Nam's cousin, Lee Han-Young, was assassinated by North Korean agents in 1997 after defecting to South Korea via Switzerland in 1982.

Kim Jong Nam gave occasional interviews to Japanese media.

However, a statement issued by Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said the man's passport bore the name Kim Chol, aged 46, with passport number 836410070, from Pyongyang. In 2013, his uncle and North Korea's second-in-command was convicted of treason and sent to a gun range where his body was turned to pulp by anti-aircraft machine guns.

In 2012, a Moscow newspaper reported that Jong-Nam was having financial problems after being cut off by the Stalinist state for doubting its succession policy.

Kim Jong Nam was the most public of all of Kim Jong Il's sons before Kim Jong Un took power, though most remember him for the scandalous headlines he made.

"The Wall Street Journal, in a report on Kim's death from Seoul, said the killing eliminating a reform-minded member of North Korea's ruling dynasty who was once considered next in line to rule the isolated country".

Police earlier told Reuters that an unidentified man had died en route to the hospital from Kuala Lumpur Airport.

He had spoken out publicly against the reign of his family in the country.

South Korean media have long talked about a feud between the brothers and have speculated that the North Korean leader might want to get rid of his rival, who had however said he never sought power for himself.

Mr. Kim was once questioned in Macau by a reporter about the likelihood that his brother would take over the leadership of North Korea, and he seemed to accept his fate. "We should abide by such reasons if there are any", he told TV Asahi.

But at the same time, Madden noted that Kim Jong Nam had publicly said he would do anything to help the new leader. He was not. While it's not exactly clear what led him to be passed over for his younger brother, Kenji Fujimoto, a pseudonym for Kim Jong Il's personal sushi chef, later wrote in his memoir that the North Korean leader thought Kim Jong Chul was too effeminate.

As the eldest son, why did Kim not become leader?

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