One of the women manipulated into killing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s brother claims she was promised YouTube stardom for her role in the series of pranks leading up to the assassination.
Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah said she was groomed unknowingly prior to the hit on Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017, the Mail on Sunday reported.
Malaysian prosecutors dropped murder charges against Ms Aisyah and she was released in March after spending two years behind bars, while her Vietnamese co-accused Doan Thi Huong was freed in May.
They unwittingly executed the 45-year-old globe-trotter using a fatal smear of nerve agent VX, a lethal poison that if left untreated attacks nerves that control muscles and leads to asphyxiation.
Speaking with the publication, the now 30-year-old said she was completely oblivious about what was going on behind the scenes of what she believed was the making of her fruitful social media career.
She had been filmed several times previously approaching strangers in shopping malls where she would execute “pranks” by smearing baby oil on them for entertainment.
“I am just a girl from a small village. I just believed I was playing pranks. That's all I ever thought,” she said.
A struggling Ms Aisyah moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2017 in an effort to raise money for her young son, who she left with her parents-in-law in Indonesia. She worked as a masseuse and in the adult industry at night.
Her low wages did little to help get back on her feet, so when a taxi driver introduced her to Japanese TV producer, James, on the promise of money and fame - she was not going to turn it down.
James however turned out to be a North Korean agent called Ri Ji U.
He filmed her multiple times at shopping centres and in a trial at Kulala Lumpur Airport, and promised that if she performed well, he would take her to the United States.
“I was very excited. I thought this was going to change my life and I would be able to leave my old life behind,” she said.
When another manager, who went by the name Mr Chang, took over from Ri, he took her to Cambodia where she performed the same stunt for the camera.
On her return to Malaysia, Mr Chang gave her more than $A350 and promised that her next job would project her into international notoriety and he wasn’t wrong.
They met at the airport on February 13, 2017, and Mr Chang squeezed VX onto Ms Aisyah’s hand, which she had assumed was baby oil just like her previous jobs.
She was warned that her target was “very arrogant and might get angry” so she needed to leave the scene as quickly as she could after smearing him with the liquid.
The other woman hired as an actress, who also said she was set up, approached Mr Nam and covered his eyes with her hands while Ms Aisyah wiped the VX on him.
A short time later Mr Nam fell to the ground and was transported to hospital, where he died from the contamination.
Unaware of what was unfolding elsewhere in the airport, Ms Aisyah walked around the airport and sat down for lunch.
Two days later when police came to arrest her, she thought they were part of an elaborate hoax and began laughing, but they were far from amused.
“I was absolutely terrified when I realised I might be executed. I was so confused. How could I be in this situation?
“I cried every day for three months. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t drink. I thought I’d never see my son again.”
Mr Nam found his way to a medical station after being smeared by the poison while standing at the check-in counter, and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He was dead within a matter of hours.
However, an unnamed source “knowledgeable about the matter” has told The Wall Street Journal the North Korean leader’s half-brother was a CIA informant.
It’s not clear exactly what his role was but Mr Nam was reportedly in Malaysia to meet his CIA contact.
Reuters could not independently confirm the story. The CIA declined to comment.
The Journal quoted the source as saying "there was a nexus" between the CIA and Mr Nam.
“Several former US officials said the half-brother, who had lived outside of North Korea for many years and had no known power base in Pyongyang, was unlikely to be able to provide details of the secretive country's inner workings,” the Journal said.
The former officials also said Mr Nam had been almost certainly in contact with security services of other countries, particularly China's, the Journal said.
His role as a CIA informant is also mentioned in a new book about Kim Jong-un, "The Great Successor", by Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield.
Fifield said Mr Nam usually met his handlers in Singapore and Malaysia, citing a source with knowledge of the intelligence.
The book says security camera footage from Mr Nam's last trip to Malaysia showed him in a hotel elevator with an Asian-looking man who was reported to be a US intelligence agent.
It said Mr Nam’s backpack contained A$174,000 in cash, which could have been payment for intelligence-related activities, or earnings from his casino businesses.
South Korean and US officials have said the North Korean authorities had ordered the assassination of Mr Nam, who had been critical of his family's dynastic rule.
Pyongyang denied the allegation.
– with Associated Press and Reuters
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