The inner workings of a North Korean assassination unit

Choi Song Min  |  2017-02-24 15:55
It has emerged that five North Korean suspects are wanted by Malaysian police for the murder of Kim Jong Nam, leading to speculation on the nature of the so-called 'assassination team.’

According to the statements of the suspects themselves, witness testimonies, and local reports, each of the suspects of North Korean nationality appear to have played a role in the operation, including the recruitment of the female suspects and assisting their escape.

Analysis suggests that the four North Korean men who observed the assassination within the airport were overseeing the operation, and were members of an 'intervention group.' These individuals comprised a backup team that was waiting at the scene in case the women responsible for poisoning Kim Jong Nam were to fail.

A defector who identifies only as Mr. A worked for the General Bureau of Reconnaissance for 25 years told Daily NK on February 20, "The four men who returned to North Korea on the day of murder were [certainly] the leaders of the operation. Among them, the two men in their 50s were likely in charge of the entire operation and the other two in their 30s were probably brought in as backup muscle if things did not go according to plan."

"The General Bureau of Reconnaissance (GBR) always prepares a plan B when they dispatch an operations team. If the local women recruited for the poison attack were to fail, the backup team would have been immediately put into action," Mr. A said, explaining that a separate team is always on standby to fulfill the mission.

He added, "The assassination appears to have been overseen by a specially formed 'direct operations team' rather than using fixed espionage assets residing in Malaysia. The embedded spies in the Southeast Asia region would likely have provided information on Kim Jong Nam's movements, while the specialist group were responsible for the actual killing.”

The four North Korean men who are believed to have led the operation arrived in Malaysia on separate flights between 1 and 2 weeks before the incident and all left immediately on the same day. 

"Within the GBR, there is an 'Office 35' and an intelligence research division that specializes in the training of agents for overseas dispatch. Men and women of different ages receive intensive training and become fluent in foreign languages in these divisions. They are considered to be outstanding agents and are always on standby for a mission," Mr. A added.

Mr. A also surmises that Ri Jong Chol, the only North Korean suspect who remained in Malaysia and was caught, is a member of the division and responsible for acquiring restricted materials in Southeast Asia for the manufacturing of bombs and other uses under the pretext of conducting technical research.

This technology arm is also known as Office 96 within the GBR. Numerous agents like Ri Jong Chol are known to live abroad with their families, disguised as company presidents, businessmen, or researchers. "Unlike the ordinary workers abroad, these agents are often dispatched as a couple or a family. Of course, whether they are a real family or a facade is open to investigation." Mr. A added.

"It must have been intentional to leave Ri Jong Chol and his family behind while the other four suspects all returned to North Korea. Ri was the one who provided accommodation for the team and prepared the poison for the female suspects, and he is trying to delay the investigation by claiming that he wasn’t at the scene of the crime."

During the investigation by Malaysian police, Ri has strongly denied all charges, claiming that he was not even at Kuala Lumpur Airport at the time.

"The female suspects of Vietnamese and Indonesian nationality who poisoned Kim Jong Nam must be scapegoats, because the GBR often recruits local people with money to reduce evidence of North Korea’s involvement,” he explained.

"The GBR has specialized in spying, murder and kidnapping for decades in many parts of the world. The identity of the suspects will be revealed soon, but I am convinced that the incident was conducted by the GBR.”

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

 
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2017.04.25
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