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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.

Two suspects in Kim Jong Nam murder case

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.

"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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How much did Kim Jong Nam's killers know?

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.

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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"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."

jbh/gsw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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