Kim Jong Nam murder trial: Women plead not guilty

Two women pleaded not guilty to murdering the half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un as their trial got underway in Malaysia. They deny having knowingly rubbed the toxic VX nerve agent in Kim Jong Nam's face.

Siti Aisyah (above, left) of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong (above, right) of Vietnam entered their pleas through interpreters at Shah Alam High Court, near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, on Monday.

They are accused of smearing Kim Jong Nam's face with the banned VX nerve agent - a powerful chemical weapon that kills by sending the nervous system into overdrive - at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur, killing him within about 20 minutes.

But Aisyah, 25, and 29-year-old Huong claim they were misled into believing they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show.

Defense lawyers said the real culprits have left Malaysia and that the women's innocence will be proven in court.

Law and Justice | 04.03.2017

"We are fairly confident that at the end of trial, they will probably be acquitted," Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer for Huong, told French news agency AFP.

The defendants were arrested just days after the killing of Kim Jong-Nam on February 13 as he was waiting to board a plane to Macau. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

The trial is expected to last about two months.

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Accusations against Pyongyang

They are the only suspects arrested in what some have suggested might be an assassination plot masterminded by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Malaysian authorities allege that Aisyah and Huong were trained by North Korean agents to swab Kim's face with the VX nerve agent. Security footage shows one of the two women approaching Kim from behind and rubbing something on his face, before running away.

South Korea's top spy agency has claimed that North Korea recruited the two female suspects.

Related Subjects

A Korea University professor investigating the assassination - and who previously led a research arm with South Korea's intelligence agency - recently told GQ magazine that it was all "part of a master plan."

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Fears of a North Korean defector

"Pyongyang wanted to send a worldwide message by murdering Kim Jong Nam in this gruesome, public way," researcher Nam Sung-wook said.

"Pyongyang wanted to horrify the rest of the world by releasing a chemical weapon at an airport."

North Korea denies any involvement. Investigators say several North Koreans suspected of involvement left the country on the day of the attack.

Kim Jong Nam's murder sparked a fierce row between North Korea and Malaysia, with both countries expelling each other's ambassadors.

Kim Jong Nam was the firstborn and illegitimate son of former leader Kim Jong Il. He had been living abroad for years and at the time of his death was travelling on a North Korean diplomatic passport under the name "Kim Chol."

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A young leader

Kim Il Sung, the first and "eternal" president of North Korea, took power in 1948 with the support of the Soviet Union. The official calendar in North Korea begins with his birth year, 1912, designating it "Juche 1" after the state's Juche ideology. He was 41 when, as shown here, he signed the 1953 armistice that effectively ended the Korean War.

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Hero worship

In the years and decades after the war, Pyongyang's propaganda machine worked hard to weave a mythical narrative around Kim Il Sung. His childhood and the time he spent fighting Japanese troops in the 1930s were embellished to portray him as an unrivaled military and political genius. At the 1980 party congress, Kim announced he would be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il.

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Ruling to the end

In 1992, Kim Il Sung started writing and publishing his memoirs, entitled "Reminiscences: With the Century." Describing his childhood, the North Korean leader claims that he first joined an anti-Japanese rally at 6 years old and became involved with the independence struggle at 8. The memoirs remained unfinished at Kim Il Sung's death in 1994.

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In his father's footsteps

After spending years in the top tiers of the regime, Kim Jong Il took power after his father's death. Kim Jong Il's 16-year rule was marked by famine and economic crisis in an already impoverished country. However, the cult of personality surrounding him and his father, Kim Il Sung, grew even stronger.

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Rising star

Historians outside North Korea believe Kim Jong Il was born in a military camp in eastern Russia, most likely in 1941. However, the leader's official biography claims it happened on the sacred Korean mountain Paektu, exactly 30 years after his father, on April 15, 1942. A North Korean legend says the birth was blessed by a new star and a double rainbow.

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Family trouble

Kim Jong Il had three sons and two daughters with three different women. This 1981 photo shows Kim Jong Il sitting besides his son Kim Jong Nam, with his sister-in-law and her two children in the background. Kim Jong Nam was eventually assassinated in 2017.

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Grooming a successor

In 2009, Western media reported that Kim Jong Il had picked his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to take over as the head of the regime. The two appeared together at a military parade on 2010, a year before Kim Jong Il passed away.

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Together

According to Pyongyang, the death of Kim Jong Il in 2011 was marked by a series of mysterious events. State media reported that ice snapped loudly at a lake on the Paektu mountain during a sudden snowstorm, with a glowing message appearing on the rocks. After Kim Jong Il's death, a 22-meter (72-foot) statue of him was erected next to the one of his father (l.) in Pyongyang.

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Mysterious past

Kim Jong Un mostly stayed out of the spotlight before his ascent to power. His exact age is disputed, but he is believed to have been born between 1982 and 1984. He was reportedly educated in Switzerland. In 2013, he surprised the world by meeting with former NBA star Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang.

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A new cult

Like the leaders before him, Kim Jong Un is hallowed by the state's totalitarian regime. In 2015, South Korean media reported about a new teacher's manual in the North that claimed Kim Jong Un could drive at the age of 3. In 2017, state media said that a monument to the young leader would be build on Mount Paektu.

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A Kim with a hydrogen bomb

Altough Kim took power at a younger age and with less of a public profile than his father and grandfather, he has managed to maintain his grip on power. The assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong Nam in 2017 served to cement his reputation abroad as a merciless dictator. The North Korean leader has also vastly expanded the country's nuclear arsenal.

jbh/gsw (AFP, AP, Reuters)