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Suspect Arrested In Death Of N. Korean Dictator's Half-Brother

Malaysian police officers stand outside Putrajaya Hospital, outside Kuala Lumpur, where the body of Kim Jong Un's brother was initially brought.

Malaysian authorities say they have detained a woman in the suspicious death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam. Kim, who was in his mid-40s, was the eldest of former dictator Kim Jong Il's children. He died en route to the hospital Monday after some sort of encounter at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The woman detained was carrying Vietnamese travel documents, according to police, and was alone at the time of the arrest. Malaysian media cite government sources saying closed-circuit cameras at the airport caught two women approaching Kim. One of them covered his face with a cloth before walking away. Police say Kim fell ill and asked a counter clerk for help.

Sources tell NPR his body was transported earlier Tuesday from one hospital to a larger one — Hospital Kuala Lumpur. An autopsy will be performed.

After growing up in Western countries, Kim had been living outside North Korea for decades. He was believed to have homes in Macau, Beijing and Paris. In 2001, Kim was detained trying to enter Japan on false travel documents. He later said he was trying to bring his family to Tokyo Disneyland.

The big mystery, if he didn't die of natural causes, is why Kim Jong Nam was attacked, and why now.

"I don't think we will know the full story about the death of Kim Jong Nam for many years," says Michael Madden, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who runs the site North Korean Leadership Watch.

Chan Kok Leong contributed to this post, from Kuala Lumpur.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit

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