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Malaysia releases North Korean suspect in murder of Kim Jong Nam

Frustrated by a lack of evidence, police in Malaysia have released a man they believe played a role in the death of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader. Seven suspects remain at large.

The only North Korean national arrested in connection with the death of Kim Jong Nam was released from Malaysian police custody on Friday.

Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali said Thursday that the suspect, Ri Jong Chol, would be discharged on account of "insufficient evidence."

Ri had been detained on February 17, four days after the older half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was killed. Police never specified what role they believed he played in the murder.

According to Malaysian authorities, the 47-year-old, who worked in an IT department in Kuala Lumpur, will be deported to North Korea because he did not have any valid travel documents.

"Endangered the general public"

Kim Jong Nam's murder has strained the once harmonious relationship between North Korea and Malaysia. According to Malaysian authorities, the nerve agent VX caused of the 45-year-old's death at a Kuala Lumpur airport. While Malaysia has not directly accused Kim Jong Un's regime of orchestrating the attack, the use of a complex nerve agent points to Pyongyang's involvement.

"The foreign ministry strongly condemns the use of such a chemical weapon by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances," Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday. "Its use at a public place could have endangered the general public."

Kim Jong Nam (Reuters/Kyodo)

Kim Jong Nam had been living in exile since a falling out with his father, the late Kim Jong Il

The ministry also said Malaysia did not produce, import or export chemicals such VX.

Just hours earlier, Ri Tong Il, the former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Nations, had told reporters that the Malaysian investigation could not be trusted. He said a heart attack seemed like the more likely cause of death and that if VX had been used others in addition to Kim should have been killed or injured.

"We have our experts who are qualified to determine the cause of death of Kim [Jong Un]," Malaysian Attorney General Ali said in an interview with the AP news agency. "Our investigations, supported by expert reports, confirmed that Kim […] was murdered. North Korea can say what they like but the facts remain."

According to Malaysian police, two women who smeared the deadly nerve agent on Kim's face had been instructed to immediately wash their hands after attacking Kim.

Seven suspects remain at large

A 25-year-old Indonesian woman and a 28-year-old Vietnamese woman were charged with murder on Wednesday.

Kombobild Verdächtige Frauen im Fall Kim Jong Nam

Two women from Indonesia and Vietnam were charged with Kim Jong Nam's murder

Malaysian police said they believe seven other North Koreans, who are still at large, were involved in the attack on Kim Jong Nam. Four of the suspects are presumed to have left Malaysia the day Kim Jong Nam was killed. At least two - a diplomat and an airline employee - are believed to still be in Malaysia.

North Korea has been known to arrange for people it considers a danger to its regime to be killed.

While Kim Jong Un's half-brother did not appear to be seeking political power, he had occasionally been critical of the regime and his position as the eldest son of deceased dictator Kim Jong Il could have threatened to Kim Jong Un.

Nam had been living in exile for over a decade after he fell out of favor with his father in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

mb/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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