The assassination of the North Korean leader's half brother illustrates the "brutal and inhuman" nature of the regime in Pyongyang, Seoul said Wednesday after Kim Jong-Nam was reportedly killed in Malaysia by female agents.
Two women are believed to have used some kind of poison for the Cold War-style killing, with reports from Malaysia and South Korea suggesting Kim Jong-Nam had been stabbed with poison-tipped needles or had chemicals sprayed in his face.
"He told the receptionist at the departure hall that someone had grabbed his face from behind and splashed some liquid on him," Selangor state's criminal investigation chief Fadzil Ahmat was reported as saying by Malaysia's The Star newspaper.
"He asked for help and was immediately sent to the airport’s clinic. At this point, he was experiencing headache and was on the verge of passing out,” said Fadzil.
"At the clinic, the victim experienced a mild seizure. He was put into an ambulance and was being taken to the Putrajaya Hospital when he was pronounced dead," he said.
South Korean reports had earlier suggested the two female assassins had used poison-tipped needles during the killing, before fleeing in a taxi.
Kim had at one time been set to assume the leadership of his isolated country, but fell out of favor after an embarrassing attempt to get into Japan on a fake passport in 2001.
He has since lived in exile, mostly in the gambling haven of Macau, but he has also been spotted in other Asian countries and there have been reports of his playboy lifestyle.
Kim, 45, is believed to have been in Malaysia on a passport bearing the name Kim Chol, a known alias, according to South Korean media.
But Seoul on Wednesday confirmed that the dead man was a member of the Kim dynasty.
"Our government is certain that the murdered man is Kim Jong-Nam," said Chung Joon-Hee, a spokesman for Seoul's unification ministry that handles inter-Korea affairs.
"If confirmed, the murder of Kim Jong-Nam would be an example that shows the brutality and inhumane nature of the North Korean regime," acting leader Hwang Kyo-Ahn told a meeting of top security officials earlier, according to his spokesman.
"We're taking this incident very seriously and we're keeping close tabs on the North," Hwang said.
Kim's killing is thought to be the highest-profile death under the Jong-Un regime since the execution of the leader's uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, in December 2013.
Jong-Un has been trying to strengthen his grip on power in the face of growing international pressure over his country's nuclear and missile programs, and regular reports have emerged on purges and executions.
Jong-Nam, known as an advocate of reform in the North, once told a Japanese newspaper that he opposed his country's dynastic system of power.
Cheong Seong-Jang, senior researcher at Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank, said Jong-Nam had been living in near-exile so it was unlikely that Jong-Un saw him as a potential competitor for power.
"But if Jong-Nam committed an act to damage Jong-Un's authority, I think it's possible that the Reconnaissance General Bureau may have directly conducted the assassination under the orders of Jong-Un since it has been in charge of closely watching Jong-Nam," he said.