Two members of a North Korean assassination team have reportedly been arrested in Beijing while plotting an attempt on the life of Kim Han-sol, the son of Kim Jong-nam, who was poisoned in a Malaysia airport in February.
Citing North Korean sources, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said that seven agents had been involved in the plot to kill Kim Han-sol, who is the nephew of current North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and has in the past been critical of the regime in Pyongyang.
“Special operatives belonging to the North’s reconnaissance team penetrated [China] to remove Kim Han-sol, but some of them were arrested last week by the Chinese Ministry of National Security and are currently under investigation at facilities outside Beijing”, the source told the newspaper.
No information was provided on the whereabouts of the remaining members of the team, which was apparently made up of an action unit, a support group and a unit designed to identify the location of Kim Han-sol and hamper any pursuit.
The Chinese authorities reportedly detected the plot during heightened security measures introduced around the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing, which ran for seven days from October 18.
The attempt on Kim Han-sol’s life comes while two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, are on trial in Malaysia for the killing of his father. Kim Jong-nam died in Kuala Lumpur airport in February after the two women smeared VX nerve gas on his face. Since their arrest, they have told police that they had been approached by men who told them that they would be taking part in a prank for a television programme.
After his father’s death, Kim Han-sol went into hiding with his mother and younger sister, apparently assisted by a shadowy organisation called the Cheollima Civil Defence.
In a video released on YouTube, Mr Kim expressed his thanks to those who had helped him escape to another – unnamed – country.
In a statement, the Cheollima Civil Defence group said it responded in February to “an emergency request by survivors of the family of Kim Jong-nam for extraction and protection.
“The three family members were met quickly and relocated to safety”, it said, adding that no information would be provided on the present whereabouts of the family.
The statement also expressed gratitude to the governments of China, the Netherlands, the United States and “a fourth government to remain unnamed”.
It is possible that Kim Han-sol and his family remained in China under the protection of Beijing, which also extended protection for his father when he was in the country. There have been suggestions that Beijing saw Kim Jong-nam as as a potential North Korean leader should his half-brother be overthrown.
Apparently wary of a challenge from Kim Jong-nam, analysts believe that Kim Jong-un ordered his assassination. Pyongyang has denied that allegation.
With Kim Jong-nam dead, Kim Han-sol is one of the few remaining blood lines to the world’s only hereditary communist dynasty and the only one outside North Korea.
And while he may only be in his early 20s, Kim Han-sol appears to be a very different person to the present North Korean leader.
He is likely to have incurred the wrath of his uncle after describing Mr Kim as a “dictator” in an interview with a Finnish TV station in 2012. He added that his ambition is to help the people of North Korea.