(KUALA LUMPUR) — Malaysian police named on Wednesday a senior official in the North Korean embassy and another linked to its state airline, wanted for questioning over the murder last week of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother.
Kim Jong Nam was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13 while he was preparing to board a flight to Macau, where he lived with his family under the protection of Beijing.
South Korean and U.S. officials believe the killing was an assassination carried out by agents of the North to eliminate the elder half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar named the North Korean diplomat wanted for questioning as 44-year-old Hyon Kwang Song, and said he held the rank of second secretary at the embassy.
The police chief identified the Air Koryo staffer as Kim Uk Il, 37, and said another North Korean suspect wanted for questioning was Ri Ji U, but gave no further details.
He said all three were in Malaysia.
“They’re not in custody, they’ve been called in for assistance,” Khalid told reporters in a news conference.
Calls on Wednesday to the North Korean embassy for comment on the latest developments went unanswered.
Police have stepped up security at the morgue where Kim Jong Nam’s body is being held after an attempted break-in earlier this week, Khalid said. Malaysia has denied North Korea’s request for the body to be handed over to its embassy directly.
Malaysia has so far identified a total of eight North Koreans suspected of being linked to killing.
One is in custody, along with two women — one Vietnamese, one Indonesian — believed to have carried out the fatal assault using a fast-acting poison.
Khalid said police “strongly believed” four other North Koreans were back in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, having fled Malaysia on the day of the attack.
Khalid said both women wiped a liquid, containing an as yet unidentified toxic substance, on Kim Jong Nam’s face.
“Yes, the two female suspects knew that the substance they had were toxic. We don’t know what kind of chemical was used,” he said, dismissing speculation that the women had thought they were part of a prank.
“They used their bare hands,” he said, adding they were instructed to wash their hands afterwards.
The women had rehearsed the attack at two shopping malls in central Kuala Lumpur before carrying it out on Kim Jong Nam, he said.
Diplomatic tensions have escalated between North Korea and Malaysia since the killing, with the countries tussling over custody of the victim’s body and trading barbs over Malaysia’s handling of the investigation.
North Korea Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world that maintains ties with the nuclear-armed nation. Earlier this week Malaysia recalled its ambassador from Pyongyang, and Prime Minister Najib Razak rebuked the North Korea ambassador in Kuala Lumpur for making “diplomatically rude” comments.
The police said no family member of Kim Jong Nam has come forward to claim the body or provide DNA samples yet, dismissing rumors that a son had arrived in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week.
Malaysia has said it will only release the body to the next-of-kin once the cause of death and identity have been confirmed.