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Malaysia to release Kim Jong Nam murder suspect

Malaysia says it will free a man detained over the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged half brother. As tensions soar, the Kuala Lumpur government has scrapped visa-free travel for North Koreans.

Malaysia's attorney general confirmed the country would release and deport a North Korean man arrested in connection with the death of Kim Jong Nam, citing a lack of evidence connecting him to the February 17 assassination.

"He is a free man. His remand expires and there is insufficient evidence to charge him," said Mohamed Apandi Ali, adding that the man would be freed on Friday.

Watch video 01:54

Two women charged with killing half brother of North Korean leader

North Korean national Ri Jong Chol was held by police for nearly two weeks following the killing at Kuala Lumpur airport, as Jong Nam - who was the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - was preparing to board a flight to Macau.

The male suspect was arrested four days after the attack, which investigators say was carried out using the VX nerve agent.

First charges

On Wednesday, two women were charged with Jong Nam's murder. Doan Thi Huong, a 29-year-old from Vietnam, and Siti Aishah, a 25-year-old from Indonesia, allegedly poisoned Jong Nam by wiping the highly toxic chemical on his face.

If proven, the punishment for murder in Malaysia is a mandatory death sentence.

Kim Jong Nam (Reuters/Kyodo)

Jong Nam was exiled from North Korea in 2003 and was occasionally critical of his family's regime

Pyongyang continues to deny its involvement in the murder, describing the revelations that a nerve agent was used as "the height of absurdity."

North Korea's official media outlet KCNA questioned how the deadly substance could have killed Jong Nam but left the person who applied it unaffected.

Malaysian police are continuing a manhunt for seven North Koreans who they say may be linked to the killing, including a worker with Air Koryo, the national airline and a diplomat at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

No more visa-free travel 

Ties between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang have soured since the murder despite decades of strong ties, leading Malaysia to announce it was canceling visa-free entry for North Koreans as of March 6.

Malaysia had been one of the few countries that North Koreans could visit without a visa.

A high level North Korean diplomatic delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday to demand that Malaysia not perform an autopsy on Jong Nam's body and to release three suspects arrested following his killing, including Ri.

Propaganda opportunity

Meanwhile, South Korea, which together with the United States has accused Pyongyang of carrying out Yong Nam's assassination, said it would send millions of leaflets about the poisoning across the border by balloon.

News from the outside world is banned or heavily censored in the North, and it is unclear how many North Koreans are aware of Jong Nam's fate.

Watch video 01:43

How much did Kim Jong Nam's killers know?

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

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