Malaysian police release suspect

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Malaysian police release suspect


North Korean Ri Jong-chol, center, who was arrested in connection with the death of Kim Jong-un’s half brother, is transferred under tight police security from Sepang district police station in Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, to be deported. Earlier Thursday, Malaysian authorities said they will release Ri from custody Friday because of a lack of evidence. [YONHAP]

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian police on Friday released the only North Korean they had detained in the killing of the half brother of North Korea’s leader, as it condemned the use of a banned nerve agent in the attack and vowed to punish the perpetrators.

Ri Jong-chol, who had been detained since Feb. 17, was handed over to immigration officials for deportation. Police never said what they had thought his role had been in the attack, but national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed Friday that Ri was released due to a lack of evidence against him.

Malaysian Attorney General Mohamad Apandi Ali has said that Ri would be deported because he didn’t have any valid travel documents.

Two women - one Indonesian, one Vietnamese - have been charged with murdering Kim at an airport terminal Feb. 13. They were caught on grainy surveillance video smearing what Malaysian authorities say was VX nerve agent on his face and eyes, though both reportedly say they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank.

Police are searching for seven North Korean suspects, including four believed to have left Malaysia the day Kim, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was killed. One of the suspects believed to still be in Malaysia is an official at the North Korean Embassy.

A statement from Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry ramped up the pressure on Pyongyang on Friday, saying it was “greatly concerned” with the use of the toxic chemical and condemning the use of such a chemical weapon under any circumstances.

“Its use at a public place could have endangered the general public,” the foreign ministry said.

Malaysia has not directly accused North Korea of being behind the killing, but the statement came hours after a North Korean envoy rejected a Malaysian autopsy finding that VX nerve agent killed Kim, saying the man probably died of a heart attack because he suffered from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Ri Tong-il, a former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Nations, also said that if VX had been used, others besides Kim would have been killed or sickened.

Kim’s death has unleashed a diplomatic battle between Malaysia and North Korea. On Thursday, Malaysia announced it is scrapping visa-free entry for North Koreans.

Malaysian officials say the two female suspects smeared VX nerve agent - a banned chemical weapon - on Kim’s face as he waited for a flight at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Kim died within 20 minutes, authorities say. No bystanders reported falling ill.

Malaysia’s autopsy finding that VX nerve agent killed Kim boosted speculation that North Korea orchestrated the attack. Experts say the oily poison was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory, and North Korea is widely believed to possess large quantities of chemical weapons including VX.

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