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After Kim Jong-Nam, a look at North Korea’s history of state killings

If North Korean agents are responsible for the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, it would be the latest in a long line of targeted killings by the isolated state.

world Updated: Feb 15, 2017 16:02 IST
Kim Jong Nam told medical workers he had been attacked with chemical spray at the airport before he died, Malaysian officials have said.
Kim Jong Nam told medical workers he had been attacked with chemical spray at the airport before he died, Malaysian officials have said.(AFP)

If North Korean agents are responsible for the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, it would be the latest in a long line of targeted killings by the isolated state.

Kim, whose younger brother Kim Jong-Un has ruled North Korea since the death of their father in December 2011, died after reportedly being poisoned by two female agents at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday.

Kim Jong Nam told medical workers he had been attacked with chemical spray at the airport before he died, Malaysian officials have said. Leader Kim Jong Un has executed or purged a slew of high-level government officials since taking power in late 2011, and experts believe he might have been trying to eliminate a potential challenger to his leadership. Others think he was enraged over recent news reports that his brother tried to defect to the South in 2012.

North Korea has denied carrying out some of the killings and not commented on others. Some of the most notable assassinations or attempts it is suspected of doing:

Read: Kim Jong-Nam assassinated: Body of North Korean leader’s brother to undergo autopsy

Here are some other fatal attacks carried out by North Korea on foreign territory.

1968 Blue House assault

A team of 31 North Korean commandos slipped undetected into South Korea in 1968 and came within striking distance of the Seoul presidential palace. South Korean security forces managed to repel the assault at the last minute. The only commando that was captured said he had come to “slit the throat of (then-President) Park Chung-hee.”

A furious Park established a secret commando team tasked with demolishing the Pyongyang palace of North Korea’s founder. Tensions later eased, but the South Korean commando team, incensed that the planned infiltration was aborted, mutinied in 1971, killing their trainers and marching on Seoul before being stopped.

1974 presidential attempt

In 1974, Park, late father of the current South Korean president Park Geun-Hye, survived another assassination attempt.

A pro-Pyongyang Korean living in Japan, Mun Se-Gwang, opened fire with a revolver while Park was delivering a speech.

He missed Park but killed Park’s wife Yuk Young-Soo. Mun was executed that year.

1983 Myanmar

North Korean agents set off a bomb meant for South Korea’s leader while he was visiting Burma in 1983. President Chun Doo-hwan narrowly escaped the attack, but more than 20 people were killed, including four of his Cabinet ministers, his ambassador to Yangon and several top aides. One North Korean agent was shot to death by police, a second was executed and a third reportedly died in prison in 2008. Burma, now known as Myanmar, cut diplomatic ties with North Korea following the blast, but they restored relations in 2007.

1987 Korean Air

A South Korean plane flying from Baghdad to Seoul exploded over the Andaman Sea. All 115 people on board were killed.

The two bombers were traced to Bahrain where a male agent committed suicide by biting a cyanide capsule hidden in a cigarette as they were about to be taken into custody.

The other agent, Kim Hyon-Hee, was captured and brought to Seoul. She later confessed her attack had been aimed to hamper the 1988 Seoul summer Olympics. She was sentenced to death but later pardoned.

1996 diplomat killing

South Korean diplomat Choi Duk-Keun was found bludgeoned to death in Vladivostok in 1996 in what South Korean media said was revenge for the death of 25 North Korean submariners who died when their vessel ran aground in the South during an infiltration attempt.

1997 family affair

Lee Han-young, a nephew of one of the former wives of the country’s second leader Kim Jong Il, was found dead of gunshot wounds in front of a Seoul apartment in 1997. Lee had defected to South Korea through Switzerland in 1982, but Seoul kept his arrival secret until 1996, when his mother also fled the North. Lee had harshly criticized the country and his dictator uncle. The investigation into his death concluded Lee was killed by North Korean agents sent to deliver Pyongyang’s payback and the assailants returned to North Korea before they could be captured.

2010: A High-profile defector

In 2010, two agents posing as defectors were arrested in a plot to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, a former Workers’ Party secretary who remains the highest-level North Korean to seek asylum in the South. South Korean officials said both agents were majors in North Korea’s main army intelligence agency and were under orders to slit Hwang’s throat. Hwang, who once tutored Kim Jong Il, bitterly criticized the North Korean government after his 1997 defection. North Korea called him a traitor and “human scum.” He died six months after the arrests at the age of 87.