The death of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother may have been a gruesome message to the world

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North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime is accused of having his half-brother assassinated in February. According to one expert, Kim’s goal in choosing the manner of death was meant to “horrify the rest of the world,” and instill fear among his doubters.

The daring assassination of Kim Jong Nam, 45, Jong Un’s half-brother, was undertaken by two prostitutes at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport. The prostitutes used VX, a chemical-warfare nerve agent labeled as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. Similar in appearance to engine oil, 10 milligrams—or one drop—of the nerve agent is enough to kill a person in minutes.

Symptoms of contact with VX include convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis, and respiratory failure. Malaysian police identified traces of VX in the deceased body of Kim Jong Nam, the difficult-to-produce and rare chemical having infiltrated his body upon contact by the two women. He died on the way to the hospital after he collapsed when seeking help from airport officials.

South Korean media has speculated about why the estranged half-brother was killed. Now, a South Korean University professor, Nam Sung Wook, has a theory. Professor Nam previously led a research arm with South Korea’s intelligence agency. He reportedly told GQ on Monday that his investigation leads him to believe the poisoning was “part of a master plan.”

“From the moment Jong Nam left Macau, the North Koreans tailed him,” Professor Nam reportedly said. “They had a group on his airplane. As soon as he arrived at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, another group followed him. They kept that surveillance up while he slept. Even as Jong Nam entered the terminal, he was shadowed.”

Although the successful murder was seen as “sloppy work” by some, the professor says people shouldn’t assume there was bad planning on North Korea’s part. While the women were clearly visible on CCTV as they approached Kim Jong Nam and applied the VX nerve agent to his face, Professor Nam said the overt display was intentional.

“Pyongyang wanted to send a worldwide message by murdering Kim Jong Nam in this gruesome, public way,” Nam said. “Pyongyang wanted to horrify the rest of the world by releasing a chemical weapon at an airport.”

He added: “Jong Un wants to reign a long time and negotiate as a superpower. The only way to do that is to keep the world in fear of his weapons. He has a grand design, and this is part of it.”

The two women who carried out the murder, now identified as Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, are the only people in custody charged in the death. They face the death penalty if convicted, although they reportedly thought they were only playing a prank.

According to Fox News, reports indicate Kim Jong Nam was being groomed to lead the North Korean government-in-exile, making him a potential threat to Kim Jong Un.

North Korea has denied the assassination, saying Kim Jong Nam was not even their supreme leader’s half-brother, and citing a heart attack as the true cause of death. The regime says Malaysia, South Korea, and other “hostile forces” are trying to pin the assassination on it.

South Korean investigators believe Pyongyang has been using VX as a primary chemical in the North Korean weapons program, despite denials.

GQ reported two additional, failed attempts to assassinate Kim Jong Nam, once in 2010 and another in 2012. Eventually, the regime also cut his funds, leaving him begging his family, saying he had “nowhere to hide.”

Kim Jong Nam was rumored to be the son of Kim Jong Il, the country’s late dictator and father of current leader Kim Jong Un. The deceased half-brother is said to be the result of an illicit relationship with married actress Song Hye Rim in the 1960s.

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