Malaysia names North Korean diplomat wanted for questioning in murder case

Malaysian police on Wednesday named a North Korean diplomat along with a state airline official who are wanted for questioning over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader.

Kim Jong Nam, 46, was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13, while preparing to board a flight to Macau, where he lived in exile with his family under the protection of Beijing.

South Korean and U.S. officials believe the killing of the elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was an assassination carried out by agents of the North.

See more on the half-brother of Kim Jong Un:

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Kim Jong Nam arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, China, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 11, 2007.

(Kyodo/via REUTERS)

This combo shows a file photo (L) taken on May 4, 2001 of a man believed to be Kim Jong-Nam, son of the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, getting off a bus to board an All Nippon Airways plane at Narita airport near Tokyo and a file photo (R) of his half-brother, current North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, on a balcony of the Grand People's Study House following a mass parade in Pyongyang on May 10, 2016. The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has been murdered in Malaysia, pleaded for his life after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by South Korea's spy chief said on February 15, 2017. Jong-Nam, the eldest son of the late former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favor following an embarrassing botched bid in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland.

(TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA,ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

A man (R) believed to be North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong Nam, is escorted by police as he boards a plane upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport in Narita, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo May 4, 2001. 

(Kyodo/via REUTERS)

A man watches a television showing news reports of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, in Seoul on February 14, 2017. Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has been assassinated in Malaysia, South Korean media reported on February 14.

(JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on June 4, 2010 Kim Jong-Nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, waves after an interview with South Korean media representatives in Macau. Kim Jong-Nam was in the limelight with Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper carrying a snatched interview with him at a hotel in Macau. Jong-Nam declined knowledge of the warship incident, it reported, and said his father is 'doing well'. North Korean Leader Leader Kim Jong-Il on June 7 attended a rare second annual session of parliament at which Kim's brother-in-law was promoted and the country's prime minister was sacked, state media reported.

(JoongAng Sunday/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo taken on February 11, 2007 shows a man believed to be then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's eldest son, Kim Jong-Nam (C), walking amongst journalists upon his arrival at Beijing's international airport. The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has been murdered in Malaysia, pleaded for his life after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by South Korea's spy chief said on February 15, 2017.

(JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING, CHINA: A man believed to be the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Nam, answers Japanese reporters' questions at the Beijing International airport, 25 September 2004.

(JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

A man believed to be North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong-nam emerges from a bus as he is escorted by Japanese authorities upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport May 4, 2001. Believed to be Kim Jong-nam, eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the man entered Japan with a forged passport on Tuesday, but was deported to China on Friday.

(Eriko Sugita / Reuters)

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Kim Jong Nam had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed state.

Giving an update on an investigation that has already angered North Korea, Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the diplomat wanted for questioning was 44-year-old Hyon Kwang Song, a second secretary at the embassy.

Police also want to interview Kim Uk Il, 37, an employee of the North Korean state-owned airline Air Koryo.

Khalid said both were in Malaysia but could not confirm they were in the embassy.

"They've been called in for assistance. We hope the embassy will cooperate with us and allow us to interview them quickly or else we will compel them to come to us," Khalid told reporters.

"We can't confirm that they are hiding in the embassy," he told Reuters.

So far, police have identified a total of eight North Koreans suspected of being linked to killing.

One, Ri Jong Chol, has been in custody since last week, and another, Ri Ji U, remains at large. Khalid said police "strongly believed" four others were back in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, having fled Malaysia on the day of the attack.

See more on the investigation:

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Kim Jong Nam murder investigation
Malaysia's Royal Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar (C) speaks next to a screen showing North Korean Kim Uk Il during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader, at the Malaysian police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malaysia's Royal Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar (C) speaks next to a screen showing North Korean suspect Ri Ji U during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader, at the Malaysian police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malaysia's Royal Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar (C) speaks next to a screen showing North Korean suspect Ri Ji U during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader, at the Malaysian police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malaysian police officers gather in front of the gate of the morgue at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital where Kim Jong Nam's body is held for autopsy in Malaysia February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A reporter holds up a local newspaper during his report in front of the morgue at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital where Kim Jong Nam's body is held for autopsy in Malaysia February 18, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malaysia's Royal Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar demonstrates to the media during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader, at the Malaysian police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Nguyen Thi Vy, 54, mother in law of Doan Thi Huong, a suspect involved in the assassination of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother, looks at handouts and published photographs of the four arrested suspects including Huong at Huong's family home in Nghia Hung district, northern province of Nam Dinh on February 22, 2017. Detectives probing the assassination of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother want to question a North Korean diplomat, Malaysia's top policeman said. Royal Malaysian Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Vietnamese suspect Doan Thi Huong, 28, and Indonesian Siti Aishah, 25, had been trained to swab the man's face, practising in Kuala Lumpur before the assault at the airport. / AFP / HOANG DINH NAM (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
A look at the murder of Kim Jong Nam, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's estranged half brother.
Package looking at Kim Jong Nam's movement, the Kim family and the purge led by Kim Jong Un.
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Police have not stated Ri Jong Chol's role in the killing. He lived in Malaysia for three years without working at the company registered on his employment permit or receiving a salary.

Police are also holding two women - one Vietnamese, one Indonesian - who are suspected of carrying out the fatal assault on Kim Jong Nam using a fast-acting poison.

REHEARSED ATTACK

Police chief Khalid said both women wiped a liquid, containing an as yet unidentified toxic substance, on Kim Jong Nam's face.

"Yes, the two female suspects knew that the substance they had was toxic. We don't know what kind of chemical was used," he said, dismissing speculation that the women had thought they were part of a prank.

"They used their bare hands," he said, adding that they were instructed to wash their hands afterwards.

The women had rehearsed the attack at two shopping malls in central Kuala Lumpur before assaulting Kim Jong Nam, he said.

An Indonesian foreign ministry official Lalu Muhammad Iqbal said it was premature to draw conclusions about its citizen's involvement.

"The fact that investigators have asked for an extension to the remand shows that the evidence so far is not enough to bring charges or prosecute," he said in a statement.

DIPLOMATIC SPAT

North Korea's embassy issued a statement on Wednesday calling for the immediate release of its citizen, Ri Jong Chol, and the two women, saying they were innocent. The embassy statement did not address the police request to interview one of its diplomats.

Security was stepped up at the morgue where Kim Jong Nam's body is being held after an attempted break-in earlier this week, Khalid said.

Malaysia has denied North Korea's request for the body to be handed over to its embassy directly, saying it would be released to the next of kin, though none has come forward.

The investigation has strained Malaysia's hitherto friendly relations with North Korea.

Earlier this week Malaysia recalled its ambassador from Pyongyang, and Prime Minister Najib Razak rebuked the North Korea ambassador in Kuala Lumpur for making "diplomatically rude" comments

(Additional reporting by Liz Lee; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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