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Former CIA Head: Kim's Murder Designed to Remove Rival

Kim Jong Nam, exiled half brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, points toward his face while talking to airport security and officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, in this image made Feb. 13, 2017.
Kim Jong Nam, exiled half brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, points toward his face while talking to airport security and officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, in this image made Feb. 13, 2017.
Former CIA Head: Kim's Murder Designed to Remove Rival
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A former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency recently spoke to VOA about the killing of Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia.

He said the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was murdered to stop any effort to remove the current leadership of the country.

Forty-five-year-old Kim Jong Nam died on February 13th. Malaysian officials say two women poisoned him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.

Police say the women put VX nerve agent on Kim’s face. VX is a very powerful chemical weapon banned by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Police in Kuala Lumpur arrested the women and a North Korean citizen last month. On Friday, Malaysia’s national police chief said the North Korean held in connection with the case had been released. However, Malaysian officials say they want to talk to seven other North Koreans -- including a diplomat based in Kuala Lumpur.

Police in Malaysia have not said that North Korea planned or carried out the murder.

A North Korean official suggested that Kim Jong Nam died of a heart attack. Malaysia’s national police chief said that was not the case according to police experts.

The South Korean government has accused the North Korean leader of ordering the killing of his half-brother.

John McLaughlin was the acting director of the CIA from July to September 2004 and the deputy director from 2000 to 2004. He worked at the CIA for 30 years. He says North Korea likely planned and carried out the attack because of the method used by the women.

“It’s very hard for someone not connected to a state entity -- a nation-state -- to obtain the kind of poison that was apparently used.”

At one time, Kim Jong Nam was believed to be the choice of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to rule the country. Kim Jong Il was the leader of North Korea from 1994 until he died in 2011.

Kim Jong Nam has lived outside of North Korea since 2001.

McLaughlin now teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He told VOA that the reason Kim Jong Nam was killed was “the North Korean leadership wanted to make sure there is not an alternative readily available (to replace) Kim Jong Un.”

McLaughlin said the North “particularly would want to make sure that China would not have someone handy that they could install in the event Kim Jong Un was removed or fell from power.”

The murder has caused many to wonder if the North Korean leadership is stable. But McLaughlin said it is important not to speculate about the North’s leadership. However, he said a series of executions carried out by Kim Jong Un since he became the head of the government could mean he might not have complete control over the country.

The killing was reported throughout the world because it took place at one of the busiest airports in Asia. Many observers asked why such a place was chosen.

“It’s probably seen as a more, a place where what they were doing would be less easily noticed just from the general turmoil of an airport.”

McLaughlin called the attack an “alarming event” because the banned chemical is believed to have been used in a public place to kill someone.

Experts say China wanted Kim Jong Nam to be a member of the North Korean leadership. So, McLaughlin says, his murder puts China in a difficult position.

McLaughlin said the United States should name North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism if it is found to be responsible for the killing. The United States named the North a state sponsor of terrorism after it was determined that it bombed a South Korean airliner in 1987, killing 115 crew and passengers.

In 2008, the U.S. said the North was no longer a terrorism sponsor. This removal from the list of countries that support terrorism was part of an agreement in which the North agreed to disable its plutonium plant and permit some inspections of its nuclear facilities.

After reports of the killing in Kuala Lumpur, some American lawmakers are calling on the Trump administration to cancel that decision.

I’m John Smith.

VOA News Writer Jenny Lee reported this story from Washington. John Smith adapted the story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

nerve agent – n. a poison that is used as a weapon in war

entity – n. an organization; something that exists by itself; something that is separate from other things

alternative – n. something that can be chosen instead of something else; a choice or option

handy – adj. near or close

install – v. to put (someone) in an official or important job

speculate – v. to think about something and make guesses about it; to form ideas or theories about something usually when there are many things not known about it

sponsor – n. supporter