‘My life is in danger,’ North Korean leader’s half-brother quoted as saying months before poisoning

FILE PHOTO - Kim Jong Nam arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, China, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 11, 2007. Picture taken February 11, 2007. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS/File Picture.

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Kim Jong Nam, the poisoned half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, told a friend in Malaysia his life was in danger six months before he was killed, a police official told a court on Tuesday.

Two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, have been charged with murdering Kim by smearing his face with VX, a banned chemical poison, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 last year.

Four North Korean fugitives have also been charged with murder.

Defence lawyers say the women thought they were playing a prank for a reality show, as they had been paid to do elsewhere at airports and shopping malls, and did not know they were poisoning Kim. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Kim arrived in Malaysia on Feb. 6 last year and was picked up at the airport by the driver of friend Tomie Yoshio, lead police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz said.

The driver was instructed to take Kim to his lodgings and other places he wanted to go after Kim told Yoshio his “life was in danger” during a prior visit to Malaysia.

“Six months before the incident on Feb. 13, Kim Jong Nam said ‘I am scared for my life and I want a driver’,” Wan Azirul said, citing police interviews with Yoshio.

He did not give any other details about Yoshio or his whereabouts.

Gooi Soon Seng, Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, has argued the killing was politically motivated, with key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting his client was being made a scapegoat.

Kim had criticized his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea, some South Korean officials have said.

Under questioning, Wan Azirul agreed with Gooi that the two accused women had no motive for the killing, but denied accusations that the police investigation had been “lop-sided”.

Gooi had earlier asked about Hong Song Hac, a North Korean who had paid Siti Aisyah to act on a prank show and was caught on airport video recordings fleeing the country on the day of the killing.

Hong, one of the four North Koreans charged with the murder, was an official with the North Korean embassy in Indonesia from 2016 to 2017, Gooi told the court, citing records obtained from Indonesia’s foreign ministry.

Wan Azirul could not confirm Gooi’s assertion, admitting he had not looked into Hong’s background despite naming Hong as a suspect.

The trial resumes on Mar. 14.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Hundreds Forced To Flee California Wildfires

Wildfires in California have forced over a thousand residents to flee their homes and have put hundreds of homes in danger.

A blaze near a lakeside resort town has burned almost two-dozen buildings.  The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says the fire near Bass Lake in Central California hit one neighborhood especially hard and destroyed several homes.

The fire started in a road near Oakhurst just south of a Yosemite National Park entrance.  The fires quickly progressed to Bass Lake because of strong winds.  The fire burned over 320 acres according to CalFire.

Over 400 homes are considered to be in danger form the flames.

Another fire burning about 60 miles outside of Sacramento has forced 133 homes to be evacuated.  CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said that the fire has burned 4.7 square miles and is 10 percent contained.  He attributed the fire’s rapid growth to a canyon full of thick, dry brush.

Fire officials say a heat wave in the area is making the conditions to fight the flames almost unbearable.  At least six firefighters have been wounded in fighting the flames.