Indonesian assassin’s shock discovery
The woman tricked into assassinating the brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has claimed she was reassured her actions were nothing more than a YouTube prank.
"They told me they were going to make me a star. I feel so foolish for believing them so easily," Indonesian Siti Aisyah said.
The 27-year-old also said she unwittingly practised her deadly mission on multiple strangers before being sent to smear a deadly nerve agent on the face of Kim Jong-nam, 45, in the middle of a bustling airport in Malaysia.
The attack in February 2017 in the middle of Kuala Lumpur airport, one of Asia's busiest travel hubs, sent shockwaves around the world due to its sheer audacity.
Kim died from the effects of a VX nerve agent, unable to breathe, minutes after alerting airport officials to the attack.
The half-brother of the North Korean dictator, he was seen as a threat by the regime in Pyongyang particularly due to his closeness to US officials.
The attacker was tracked down to a remote Indonesian village where she is living after being released from jail after the case against her was dropped.
Ms Aisyah told Britain's Mail on Sunday she had no idea she was involved in an assassination and had was clueless as to who Kim Jong-un was let alone his globetrotting brother.
She became ensnared in the fatal plot when a man who said he was a talent scout promised her global fame.
He kept that promise, but not in any way she said she could have ever imagined.
In 2017, Ms Aisyah was struggling to raise her young son after a failed marriage. She had moved to Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur making ends needs meet by working as a masseuse.
A taxi driver told her about a Japanese man, who went by the name of James, who was looking for people to act in a reality TV show to be screened on YouTube.
James was actually a North Korean secret against called Ri Ji U.
She met him in a shopping centre where he said he would pay her the equivalent of $A145 if he could film her pulling pranks on shoppers.
It was a huge amount of money - far more than the roughly A$7 per client she was paid back at the massage parlour.
All she had to do was approach men at random in the mall, smear baby oil on their face, apologise and scarper.
"I was nervous about doing the pranks at first in case someone reacted badly or hit out but I was very happy to have the work," Ms Aisyah told the Mail.
"I questioned why anyone would want to watch this sort of thing but they told me Japanese audiences loved it.
"Afterwards he told me I had done a good job and there would be more work like this for me."
Over the coming weeks she repeated the actions at other malls, all the time being filmed by Ri.
Crucially, however, she also smeared unsuspecting travellers at Kuala Lumpur's airport.
"James told me he would take me to America," she said.
"I was very excited. I thought this was going to change my life and I would be able to leave my old life behind."
Another agent took over from Ri and this one took Ms Aisyah to Cambodia where, just like before, she approached, smeared, apologised and walked away from various strangers.
While this was taking place, agents were trying to work out when Kim would be travelling through Kuala Lumpur Airport.
MAKE HER A STAR
Ms Aisyah was sent back to Malaysia and given a bonus of more than $A350 by her new handler who said he was called Mr Chang.
The next job, he said, would make her a star.
"I didn't think I was going to be famous. I liked the money," she said, flattered. Ms Aisyah gushed to friends who celebrated her impeding stardom.
The next day, like several beforehand, she went to the airport and met Mr Chang. But things were to be different this time.
It wouldn't be a random man she approached, but one he pointed out. And there would be another "actress" joining her who would distract the passenger just before she placed the substance on his face like she had practised many times before.
Mr Chang opened a small bottle and poured the sticky liquid onto Ms Aisyah's hand. She said she had no idea the baby oil from other days was gone. It was now VX.
"Mr Chang told me the man was a big boss in his company. He said he was very arrogant and might get angry so I should carry out the prank and then get away as quickly as I could," she told the paper.
She was nervous; she wasn't sure how this man would react.
Just two steps away from Mr Kim, who was travelling to the Chinese autonomous region of Macau, she saw another woman cut across her path.
She approached Kim and placed her hands over the man's eyes.
The other woman was Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, who also said she was set up.
"He looked annoyed and upset, I thought. He looks like a rich man and he is clearly angry and he might report us to the police."
She quickly walked away and both women went to the bathroom to wash the liquid off their hands. This action may have saved their lives as it prevented the VX agent from doing its worse.
Mr Kim was not so lucky. Suspicious he had been attacked he sought out airport staff but the VX was already killing him.
VX is a toxin that disrupts the transmission of neurotransmitters across the body. It causes nerve cells to be constantly switched "on", according to website The Conversation.
In the case of nerves that control the muscles, it means the muscle is continuously being told to contract.
This is particularly dangerous around the rib cage where VX-affected muscles are incessantly trying to fill the lungs with air, but not to expel that air. Inevitably, it leads to asphyxiation.
Job done, Ms Aisyah wandered around the airport shops and ate lunch, apparently oblivious to Mr Kim writhing in pain on the terminal floor elsewhere.
THOUGHT ARREST WAS A PRANK
When police came to arrest her two days later, she thought it too was prank.
"At the police station they told me I had been involved in the murder of a president's brother. I just laughed and said 'you must be joking'.
"But they got angry with me and put me in handcuffs."
The horror of what she had done and the sentence she now faced slowly dawned on Ms Aisyah.
"I was absolutely terrified when I realised I might be executed.
"'I was so confused. How could I be in this situation? I cried every day for three months. I couldn't eat and I couldn't drink. I thought I'd never see my son again."
Ri Ji U fled to the North Korean embassy, along with other suspects in the case, where eventually they were allowed home after a tit-for-tat deal was struck between the two countries.
North Korea has denied involvement in the death of Mr Kim.