One of the likely reasons for the assassination of Kim Jong-nam was that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was both afraid and jealous of his 46-year-old elder half-brother.
The assassinated Kim had once been considered a plausible heir to the late Kim Jong-il, son of the regime founder Kim Il-sung. It was his outspoken attitude and resistance to the hereditary power succession which ruled him out as leader, giving way to his younger half-brother Jong-un.
Kim Jong-un(L), Kim Jong-nam(R) (Yonhap)
Until he was ousted, however, the elder Kim was deemed the most cherished son of the late state leader. He was also the first-born of his father’s second wife Song Hye-rim, a former movie star who is said to have been the favorite of his three spouses.
As the younger son of Korean-Japanese dancer Koh Young-hee -- whose background is considered rather humble compared to Song’s -- Kim Jong-un has often been reported to keep a jealous watch over his half-brother.
The latter not only had the full support of Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful but now executed uncle of the incumbent leader, but also was deemed a “more rightful heir” to power due to his mother’s reputed background.
This tension also explains the repeated attempts to have the elder Kim killed over the past years.
Kim Jong-nam’s mother, Song, who was married to someone else at the time she met Kim Jong-il, was forced by the Kim family to leave North Korea in 1974. She spent the rest of her life in Moscow, Russia, where she died alone in 2002.