SHAH ALAM, Malaysia—Two Southeast Asian women on trial for the brazen assassination of the North Korean leader’s half brother were told to begin their defense Thursday, extending the trial for several more months.
Indonesia’s Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnam’s Doan Thi Huong, 29, are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. The women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a hidden-camera show.
High Court Judge Azmi Ariffin said it can be inferred from evidence presented in court so far that there was a “well-planned conspiracy” between the two women and four North Korean suspects at large to kill Kim “systemically.”
He said he “cannot rule out that this could be a political assassination” but found no concrete evidence of one.
The judge said the prosecution during the six-month trial so far had laid out enough evidence of the women’s guilt for the case against them to proceed.
“I therefore call upon them to enter their defense,” the judge said after reading his ruling for more than two hours.
Indonesian Ambassador Rusdi Kirana told reporters outside court he was shocked by the ruling but his government will abide by it.
The two young Southeast Asian women are the only suspects in custody and face the death penalty if convicted. The four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed.
According to the case presented so far, the four men known to Aisyah and Huong only by code names recruited and trained the two women to accost strangers in similar fashion to the day they attacked Kim, and they provided the women with the banned chemical weapon that they smeared on his face.
Airport security footage shown in court captured the moment of the attack and prosecutors also said the camera images linked the women to the four male suspects. Shortly after Kim arrived at the airport, Huong was seen approaching him, clasping her hands on his face from behind and then fleeing. Another blurred figure was also seen running away from Kim and a police investigator testified that it was Aisyah.
Kim died within two hours of the attack.
In 2017, South Korea’s intelligence agency said that the assassination on his half-brother may have been an intentional act to send a clear message—that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not to be messed with.
The judge said in his ruling that evidence pointed to a “simultaneous act” by the women to target Kim’s eyes, where the nerve agent would penetrate faster into his bloodstream, and then hurrying to separate bathrooms.
“I have no slightest doubt that their desperate act of rushing to the toilets is to solely decontaminate the poison on their hands,” Azmi said. He said the seemed worried and tense before washing their hands, but relaxed afterward.
Lawyers for the two women have said their clients were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
They say the prosecution failed to show the two women had any intention to kill — key to establishing the women are guilty of murder.
But the judge said their intention to kill can be inferred from deliberately targeting Kim’s eyes.
“The onus is on the accused to explain their conduct,” he added.
The defense has argued the real culprits are the four North Korean suspects and have pointed to an embassy employee who helped arrange their travel as evidence of embassy involvement.
Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.
Kim, the eldest son in the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, had been living abroad for years after falling out of favor. It is thought he could have been seen as a threat to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rule.