Will North Korea try to assassinate Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah, the Vietnamese and Indonesian linked to Kim Jong-nam’s murder?
- Both women maintain that they were tricked by North Korean agents into smearing nerve agent on the face Kim Jong-un’s half-brother
- Siti was released earlier this year and Doan will soon also walk free after accepting a lesser charge. But will Pyongyang try to silence them for good?
If either of them was to later reveal what they did know about the plan then their lives would be in danger, according to Sung-Yoon Lee, professor of Korean studies at Tufts University in the US.
“What Pyongyang fears is that after the passage of a few years, either or both of the two women [could] have a change of heart due to contrition or a financial offer from a publisher … and tell the true story, make a movie, go on TV and talk about their interactions [with] their North Korean ‘employers’,“ he said.
“The media [would] not leave them alone. They [would] be tempted to talk. Hence, yes, they are not entirely safe. They should avoid the limelight and live quietly.”
Others, such as David Maxwell, a retired army colonel and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said: “Ultimately justice will never be served until Kim Jong-un is held accountable as there can be no doubt he ordered this assassination.”
Lee, of Tufts University, said that the outcome of the court case will have further emboldened the North Korean leader.
“This case once again exemplifies North Korean exceptionalism – that is, international laws and norms don’t apply to the weird but belligerent North Korean state,” he said. “North Korea will be emboldened and its critics will be more fearful.”
Other members of the extended Kim family could now be targeted, Lee said, though “the practicability of reprisal depends largely on which country [they] live in and whether or not they are under government protection”.
“It is natural for Pyongyang to try to kill Jong-nam’s son in the near future,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University who previously worked for South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.
At the same time, the government should step up monitoring of any North Koreans operating in the country to prevent it becoming a base for smuggling operations, Hoo said.
Maxwell, of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, said this might already be happening.
“I am sure North Korea has already resumed its illicit activities in Malaysia just as it is conducting them around the world. [They] are key to survival of the regime as they provide money,” he said.