Kim Jong Nam’s death has shocked reporters, analysts, and scholars around the world. While there has been no confirmation that North Korea is indeed behind this assassination, all signs point to Pyongyang.
If it was Kim Jong Un who ordered the assassination, he is taking after his father, Kim Jong Il, who targeted critics of the regime that once had close personal ties to the leadership, and also his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who was known to order international assassinations during the Cold War era.
From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, North Korea gained an international reputation for supporting or attempting brazen assassinations and kidnappings.
Perhaps the most famous case of North Korean brazenness was the 1968 Blue House raid, in which 31 North Korean commandos attempted to kill the South Korean President Park Chung-hee. South Korean soldiers and American G.Is repelled the North Korean attack and killed 29 of the invaders. One of the North Koreans was captured by the South Korean military, while the other made his way back to the DPRK.
The North Koreans later expanded their assassination attempts to outside of the Korean peninsula. In April 1971, the North Korean Embassy in Sri Lanka helped a Maoist rebel group plan the kidnapping and assassination of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
Parts of the plot were leaked and the Sri Lankan government arrested those involved. In prison, the Maoist rebels explained that North Korean diplomats concocted the plot. The Sri Lankan government subsequently expelled the entire North Korean embassy staff from the island.
Footage of North Korea’s notorious bombing in Rangoon in 1983
During that same year, North Korean agents in Romania attempted to snatch an American diplomatic pouch being carried from the Bucharest airport. After this failed, the same North Korean agents attempted to kidnap and assassinate the staunch anti-communist Belgian ambassador to Romania Jean L.M Adriaenssen a few days later. Although the North Koreans stopped his car, the ambassador was able to sneak away after nearby tourists came to his aid.
However, North Korean attempts to assassinate perceived enemies of the state have not always been total failures.
In 1974, a pro-DPRK Zainichi Korean killed Park Chung-hee’s wife, Yuk Young-soo, at the National Theater of Korea. In 1983, three North Korean commandos almost killed South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon, Burma. The bombs planted by the North Koreans went off too early, killing seventeen people in Chun’s entourage but not the President himself.
This was North Korea’s first direct attempt to eliminate an enemy of the state in Southeast Asia. Nowadays, North Korean defectors are warned by South Korean government officials to avoid traveling to Southeast Asia.
A North Korean assassin attempted to kill South Korean President Park Chun-hee in 1973. He missed, but the First Lady was killed.
Although not to the same extent as his father, Kim Jong Il also ordered assassinations. Unlike Kim Il Sung, who targeted South Korean and international political figures, Kim Jong Il mostly went after high-level defectors who once had close ties to the North Korean leadership.
In 1997, the nephew of Kim Jong Il’s ex-wife, who defected to South Korea, was mysteriously shot. Kim Jong Il also apparently ordered the assassination of prominent North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop. Hwang reformulated North Korea’s Juche ideology and had been Kim Jong Il’s professor at Kim Il Sung University. In 2010, two North Korean agents, posing as defectors, were arrested in South Korea. Both told South Korean police that they planned to assassinate Hwang.
In ordering the killing of his half-brother, Kim Jong Un is taking a page out of his family’s playbook. He combined the tactics of both his father and grandfather. Kim Jong Il abhorred loyalists-turned-critics, while Kim Il Sung regularly used agents abroad, specifically in southern Asia, to carry out his assassination orders.
Like Hwang Jang-yop, Kim Jong Nam had been a rather outspoken critic of the DPRK’s hereditary succession process and advocated for reform in the country. This message surely reached the leadership in Pyongyang.
Kim Jong Un does not just look like his father and grandfather but is, in fact, behaving like them too.
Featured Image: Kim Jong Nam’s Facebook
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