By Joseph Sipalan and Liz Lee
Malaysian police detained a second woman on Thursday suspected of involvement in the apparent assassination of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
State-run Bernama news agency reported that she has been remanded in custody for seven days along with a woman who was caught at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Wednesday, two days after Kim Jong Nam was assaulted there with what was believed to be a fast acting poison.
Police said the latest arrest was made at 2 a.m on Thursday (2000 GMT Wednesday), and the woman was carrying an Indonesian passport, unlike the first suspect who held Vietnamese travel papers.
Lawmakers in South Korea earlier cited their spy agency as saying it suspected two female North Korean agents had murdered Kim Jong Nam. U.S. government sources also said they believed North Korean assassins were responsible.
The woman arrested in the early hours of Thursday was alone when she was apprehended, a police statement said. Her Indonesian passport bore the name Siti Aishah, and gave her date of birth as February 11, 1992, and place of birth as Serang, Indonesia. The statement gave no other details.
A Malaysian government source confirmed to Reuters that first suspect detained was the same woman whose image was captured by close circuit television footage showing her wearing a white shirt with the letters “LOL” on the front.
Her travel documents were in the name of Doan Thi Huong, showed a birth date of May 1988 and birthplace of Nam Dinh, Vietnam.
North Korea has made no public reference to Kim Jong Nam’s death, and calls to the embassy in Malaysia were unanswered.
But a source in Beijing with ties to both the North Korean and Chinese governments told Reuters that North Korea was not involved in his killing, and had no motive.
“Kim Jong Nam has nothing to do with (North) Korea,” the source said. “There is no reason for (North) Korea to kill him.”
“(North) Korea is investigating,” the source said when asked why there has been no publicly denied involvement, adding that North Korea wanted the body returned.
There was still no mention of Kim Jong Nam’s death in North Korean state media as of Thursday morning. At midnight, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to mark the birthday of his father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.
South Korea’s intelligence agency told lawmakers in Seoul that the young and unpredictable North Korean leader had issued a “standing order” for his elder half-brother’s assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.
North Korean agents have killed rivals abroad before. And Kim Jong Nam had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated state.
Malaysian police said Kim had been at the airport’s budget terminal to catch a flight to Macau on Monday when someone grabbed or held his face from behind, after which he felt dizzy and sought help at an information desk.
“The cause of death is strongly suspected to be a poisoning attack,” said South Korean lawmaker Kim Byung-kee, who was briefed by the spy agency.
Malaysian authorities rebuffed North Korean officials efforts to stop an autopsy being carried out on Kim Jong Nam, three Malaysian government sources familiar with the stand-off told Reuters.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said he believed the police had received a request from North Korean officials for the body, and said it could be eventually released to next of kin through the North Korean embassy.
“After all the police and medical procedures are completed we may release the body to the next of kin through the embassy,” Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.
According to South Korea’s spy agency, Kim Jong Nam had been living with his second wife, under Beijing’s protection, in the Chinese territory of Macau, South Korean lawmakers said. One of them said Kim Jong Nam also had a wife and son in Beijing.
In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that China was aware of reports and closely following developments.