Malaysian airport assassination focuses new attention on North Korean leader

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Terminal 2 at Kuala Lumpur ­International Airport was convulsing with its usual Monday morning chaos. Passengers were crowding around self-check-in ­kiosks for no-frills flights to Bali and Cebu and Da Nang, cramming belongings into their carry-ons.

One of those navigating the cavernous white terminal was a rotund Asian man traveling alone, checking in for a flight to Macau after a week in Malaysia.

The nearby Starbucks was full of people camped out waiting for their flights, and the noise was so loud that the workers at the cafe selling Malaysian soup and noodles did not notice anything amiss just a few yards away.

What followed was an assassination that, complete with a honey trap and a public poisoning, has focused new attention on Kim Jong Un, the 33-year-old leader of North Korea, suggesting he will stop at nothing to keep power.

For the victim was his older half brother, Kim Jong Nam, traveling on an apparently fake passport that said he was a 46-year-old named Kim Chol. It was an attack that South Korea’s spy chief asserted was directly ordered from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

One of the women grabbed the man as the other sprayed liquid on his face and held a cloth over it for about 10 seconds.

In the hullabaloo of the check-in area, no one even seemed to notice. This account of the attack and its aftermath was pieced together from interviews with staff at the airport, police and other official statements, and leaks to the local media.

The women left swiftly, but not that swiftly. They went down three sets of escalators, past an H&M and a Baskin-Robbins, and out of the terminal to a taxi stand, where they needed to buy a voucher for their journey before lining up for a cab. They got in and told the driver to take them to the Empire Hotel, some 40 minutes from the airport.

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