Interpol issued a “red notice” Thursday for four North Koreans wanted in connection with the bizarre assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half brother in Malaysia, but it probably won’t do much good.
A red notice, Interpol’s closest thing to an international arrest warrant, alerts police in the organization’s 190 member countries to share information on wanted suspects, with the goal of extraditing them to face charges.
But internationally-isolated North Korea is not a member of Interpol — a distinction it shares with just nine other countries, most of them tiny Pacific island nations. If the four wanted men have made it back home, as they are believed to have done, the red notice is essentially useless.
Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s estranged half brother, was killed in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13 by two women who rubbed the highly-toxic nerve agent VX on his face. Malaysian authorities charged the two women — one from Vietnam and one from Indonesia — with murder earlier this month. Both claim they thought they were taking part in a TV prank.
Malaysian police are seeking seven North Korean suspects in connection with the killing, including the four men named in the red notice. The four — Hong Song Hak, 34; Ri Ji Hyon, 33; O Jong Gil, 55; and Ri Jae Nam, 57 — were at the airport on the day of the killing, and have since fled the country, Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters Thursday.
“We are hoping to get them through Interpol,” he said.
The three other North Korean suspects are hiding in the country’s embassy in Malaysia, Malaysian police say.
In trademark North Korean fashion, one of the country’s diplomats claimed Thursday that the murder and subsequent investigation were part of a “despicable and extremely dangerous” plot by the U.S. and South Korea to smear Pyongyang.
“The only parties that will benefit from this incident are the enemy countries,” Pak Myong Ho told reporters at a news conference in North Korea’s embassy in Beijing Thursday.
The killing sparked a dramatic deterioration in the relationship between North Korea and Malaysia, which once had relatively strong ties. Pyongyang, infuriated by the Malaysian investigation and denying any involvement in the killing, has refused to comply with requests to hand over the suspects in its embassy.
Last week, after Malaysia recalled its envoy from Pyongyang and expelled the North Korean ambassador in protest, North Korea responded by barring nine Malaysians — three diplomats and their six family members — from leaving the so-called Hermit Kingdom. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, described North Korea’s actions as an “abhorrent” act of hostage taking and banned North Koreans from leaving Malaysia in response.
North Korea denies that the body is Kim Jong Nam’s, but they have repeatedly demanded that Malaysian authorities hand it over. Malaysian authorities said Wednesday that they used DNA samples taken from one of Kim Jong Nam’s children to confirmed that he was indeed the victim.
Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He had been living with his family in the Chinese territory of Macau before his death.