With the death of a dictator’s half-brother, things were bound to get interesting.
In the span of a week, the story of Kim Jong Nam’s death has morphed into a murder-mystery filled with palace intrigue and geopolitical ramifications, topped with the surrealist tinge of reality television.
Here’s how the story got to this point.
Feb 13: The incident
Kim was scheduled to catch a flight from Kuala Lumpur to the Chinese-administered city of Macau on Monday, February 13, when he “felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind,” according to Selangor State Criminal Investigations Department Chief Fadzil Ahmat.
Feeling dizzy, he then went to an airport customer assistance counter to seek medical help. Kim was taken to a clinic on the premises, which decided to call an ambulance and send him to the hospital. He died en route.
Feb 14: The news
News of Kim Jong Nam’s death broke on the night of Tuesday, February 14. Police initially described the incident as a “sudden death” pending the results of a post-mortem.
Malaysian authorities said Kim was traveling with a passport bearing the name Kim Chol.
Feb 15: Murder
South Korean officials announced they believed Kim’s death was murder and placed the blame on North Korea.
Lee Cheol Woo, the chairman of South Korea’s National Assembly Intelligence Committee, told reporters that Kim had been poisoned, and the suspects were “presumed to be two Asian females.”
In Malaysia, police made the first two arrests in connection with the case, detaining Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman, at the airport and 26-year-old Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin in the city of Anpang.
Feb 16: The LOL suspect
Police said Jalaluddin helped them locate another suspect: his girlfriend, a 25-year-old Indonesian woman named Siti Aishah. She was arrested at 2 a.m. local time, Thursday, February 16.
Later that day police also confirmed the validity of the now-infamous “LOL” photo, an image from closed circuit security footage showing one of the female suspects in the case on Monday.
Authorities did not specify if it was Aishah or Huong in the image.
Feb 17: The ‘prank’ and unwanted autopsy
Aishah told police she thought she was participating in a prank for a TV show.
Indonesian police chief Tito Karnavian said that the suspect, Siti Aishah, told police she had sprayed others in a similar manner three or four times, although only the Kim incident allegedly involved a dangerous substance.
Aishah was given a few dollars for the job, unaware that she was being used as a tool in a potential assassination plot, Karnavian said.
Friday, February 17, also was the point tensions between North Korea and Malaysia boiled over publicly.
After news of the death broke Tuesday, Malaysian authorities announced they would be conducting an autopsy as part of its investigation — something North Korean officials later said they would not accept unless their officials can witness the procedure.
Pyongyang’s ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, said Friday the country would reject the results of a “forced” autopsy on one of its citizens and demanded the immediate release of the body.
But Selangor Police Chief Abdul Samah Mat said without DNA from a next of kin, they wouldn’t hand over Kim Jong Nam’s body or release the autopsy report, which could reveal the cause of death.
A fourth arrest was also made on Friday. Police said they detained North Korean Ri Jong Chol at an apartment in Selangor.
Feb 18: The Inspector speaks
Malaysia’s police chief, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar, told CNN that his country didn’t need North Korea’s permission to conduct the autopsy.
He said the authorities were willing to carry out a second autopsy if it was requested by Kim’s family — and reiterated that they did not require any consent from or witness by North Korean officials.
Feb 19: The final four?
Top police official Noor Rashid Ibrahim told reporters that authorities were looking for four more suspects, all North Koreans who left the country the day of the attack.
When asked whether Malaysian authorities thought Kim’s death had been ordered by the North Korean government, he said “the four hold North Korean nationality, that is all.”
Ibrahim said the suspects do not not hold diplomatic passports.
Police said they were also looking for three other people to assist in the investigation.
Feb 20: The footage and the row
Closed circuit television footage released Monday, February 20, appears to show the moment that Kim Jong Nam was attacked and the events leading up to his death.
Malaysia also announced it was recalling its ambassador to Pyongyang and summoning North Korea’s own representative in Kuala Lumpur, Kang Chol, after he accused Malaysian officials of conspiring with “hostile forces” during the Kim investigation.
Pyongyang’s ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, accused country of being “in collusion with South Korea” at a news conference Monday.
Feb 21: Diplomatic rumblings
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak responded to that allegation Tuesday, saying “the statement by the ambassador was totally uncalled for, it is considered diplomatically rude on his part.”
“It is incumbent upon us to find out the truth about the crime and they should help us to find out the truth. That is more important than making sweeping and baseless statements, because Malaysia is not the pawn of any country and we will never be the pawn of any country,” he added.
Feb 22/23: Investigation widens
Malaysian authorities said Thursday, February 23, that they wanted to speak with a North Korean embassy official and airline employee as part of their investigation into Kim Jong Nam’s murder.
The two being sought are Hyon Kwang Song, who worked at the North Korean embassy in Malaysia, and Kim Uk Il, a staff member of the North Korean carrier Air Koryo, Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said.
Bakar denied rumors that had been circulating Wednesday that Kim Jong Nam’s son had come to the country to collect his father’s body.
The North Korean embassy in Malaysia also issued a statement accusing investigators of “unreasonably” arresting Ri and calling for the release of all three suspects in custody.
North Korea said Malaysia’s demands for DNA to confirm the victim’s identity suggested that investigators didn’t trust the North, which was “insulting to the sovereignty” of North Korea.
Feb 24: Toxin identified
VX nerve agent is identified as the chemical substance used to kill Kim in a preliminary report from the Chemistry Department of Malaysia.
Tests conducted on Kim’s eyes and face revealed the presence of the fast-acting toxic substance, Malaysian police said in a statement on Friday.
Police believe two women, following directions from four North Koreans, wiped the victim’s face with some sort of liquid.
North Korea vehemently denies any involvement in Kim’s death and rejects that version of events. It argues that the women would now be dead had a lethal chemical been on their hands.