KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian police on Thursday detained a third suspect in connection with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, an officer said.
"He was detained to facilitate investigations as he is the boyfriend of the second suspect," Selangor state police chief Abu Samah Mat told Reuters.
He was referring to a woman arrested earlier in the day. She was holding an Indonesian passport. On Wednesday, a female suspect with Vietnamese travel documents was arrested.
There was still no mention of Kim Jong Nam's death in North Korean state media as of Thursday morning. At midnight, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to mark the birthday of his father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.
South Korea's intelligence agency told lawmakers in Seoul that the young and unpredictable North Korean leader had issued a "standing order" for his elder half-brother's assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.
North Korean agents have killed rivals abroad before. And Kim Jong Nam had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated state.
Malaysian police said Kim had been at the airport's budget terminal to catch a flight to Macau on Monday when someone grabbed or held his face from behind, after which he felt dizzy and sought help at an information desk.
"The cause of death is strongly suspected to be a poisoning attack," said South Korean lawmaker Kim Byung-kee, who was briefed by the spy agency.
Malaysian authorities rebuffed North Korean officials efforts to stop an autopsy being carried out on Kim Jong Nam, three Malaysian government sources familiar with the stand-off told Reuters.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Malaysia's deputy prime minister said he believed the police had received a request from North Korean officials for the body and said it could be eventually released to next of kin through the North Korean embassy.
"After all the police and medical procedures are completed we may release the body to the next of kin through the embassy," Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.
According to South Korea's spy agency, Kim Jong Nam had been living with his second wife, under Beijing's protection, in the Chinese territory of Macau, South Korean lawmakers said. One of them said Kim Jong Nam also had a wife and son in Beijing.
In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that China was aware of reports and closely following developments.