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Thursday
Feb162017

$100,000 in cash found stashed in old TV at Canadian recycling plant

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(BARRIE, Ontario) — A 68-year-old Canadian man got a pleasant surprise when authorities returned more than $100,000 CAD ($76,560 USD approx.) in cash to him after it was discovered inside of an old television set, reports ABC News partner CTV News.

A GEEP recycling plant worker found the money last month as the TV was dismantled for processing, according to CTV News. The electronics recycling firm — located in Barrie, Ontario, about 60 miles north of Toronto — said it contacted the police immediately.

Authorities say the money was the man’s lost inheritance.

“There was like, four stacks of $50 bills, and I knew it was a large amount of money,” Rick Deschamps, general manager for GEEP told CTV News' Barrie affiliate.

The money was hidden inside of a cash box along with documents — which authorities used to find the owner.

 

 

When located, the man told police that he had forgotten about the cash box when he gave the TV to a friend, according to the CTV News report.

The money, which he says he stashed away some 30 years ago, was intended to be passed down to his family members as an inheritance.

The recycling plant said it praises the employee for her honesty.

“She’s representative of all our employees and it’s what we stand for and this kind of behavior is really what we would expect from everyone here,” Lew Coffin, GEEP vice president of operations, told CTV News.


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Thursday
Feb162017

Trump urges Venezuelan government to release 'political prisoner' Lopez

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Trump on Wednesday evening called on the Venezuelan government to release imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is serving a 14-year sentence for allegations that he incited anti-government violence during protests in 2014.

Tweeting a picture of himself alongside Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori, the president wrote that Venezuela should "immediately" release "political prisoner" Leopoldo Lopez.

 

 

The president and the first lady later hosted Rubio along with his wife Jeanette at the White House for dinner.

Rubio has advocated for a forceful U.S. foreign policy against the current Venezuelan government of President Nicholas Maduro, who launched a crackdown amid civil unrest in 2014.

 

 

Lopez, a popular opposition politician, had called for peaceful protests during that wave of unrest but was arrested by the government under accusations that he supported violence.

The Trump administration on Monday slapped sanctions against Venezuela's vice president over drug trafficking charges.

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Wednesday
Feb152017

Life in limbo: diary of a Syrian mom affected by travel ban

Bestgreenscreen/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- ABC News will be chronicling the experience of Alaa Ali Alali, a 48-year-old single mother who fled war-torn Aleppo in 2012 with her 14-year-old son, as she tries to navigate her way
to the U.S. as a Syrian refugee following President Donald Trump's executive order, which banned Syrian refugees indefinitely from entering the country. She had been cleared to come to the U.S. in
February, but the executive order threw that into limbo. She will share her journey through videos, text messages and phone calls.

Alaa Ali Alali had been vetted for nearly two years before her asylum application was approved.

Feb. 15

Once again, Alali's travel to the U.S. has been postponed. She said the International Organization for Migration had told her to prepare for travel tomorrow, but today the organization informed her
that she will not be traveling as planned. IOM declined to comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told ABC News the department was not able to provide information on specific
resettlement cases to the media.

"The travel was postponed again until the 21st of this month," she told ABC News in Arabic over the phone. "Today I spent four to five hours waiting in the street outside the U.S. Embassy while
case workers from the International Organization for Migration were inside trying to fix the problem. The U.S. has a list of names of who is able to travel tomorrow and apparently my name is not on
it. My son Mohammad and I had been so happy because we were finally going to the U.S. We had made a deal that we were going to the Pyramids today. It was going to be our last memory from Egypt. Our
bags are ready. I have prepared everything and weighed the bags. Now I'm crying and my son is upset. I don't know if I should unpack or not. My family in the U.S. had been so happy and was
expecting us. My son was so happy. He's very attached to his granddad who's in the U.S. He's like a father to him."

Alali said she had paid around $300 to change her son's plane ticket after their scheduled trip on Feb. 9 was cancelled. She has to purchase his plane ticket herself because he's not part of the
refugee program like his mother due to his dual Canadian and Syrian citizenship.

"I don’t know if I should still send him to the U.S. tomorrow or not," Alali said. "Currently I can't send him to school here. I took him out of school because I thought we were leaving and I have
to pay to send him back to school and I don't know what to do. If I could be sure that he'd be able to enter the country with no problems I'd do it. But I'm afraid they’ll stop him in the airport
and ask him why he's traveling alone and how old he is. I spoke to the travel agency and they told me that the fee for changing the ticket would probably be higher this time, but that they'll get
back to me. My son really wants to go, but at the same time he wants to be with me. He's afraid like me. I'm afraid they’ll keep postponing the travel until the American president will be able to
make a new decision that will stop me from traveling."

Feb. 8

Alali was supposed to board a plane headed to the U.S. on Feb. 9. But today she received a call from the International Organization for Migration, informing her that she will not be traveling after
all.

"They told me that they would call me back with a new date. They postponed my travel. Others will be traveling tomorrow, but not me. They told me that they don’t know why my travel was postponed
and that they will call me back soon to set a new date," she told ABC News in Arabic.

Alali's son was born in Canada and is a dual Syrian and Canadian citizen, meaning that he is not part of the refugee program like his mother. After Alali learned that she was flying tomorrow, she
booked a ticket for her son on the same flight. Now, she says she doesn’t know if she should let him travel alone.

“I begged them [to let me travel tomorrow] because I already booked a ticket for my son. I don’t know what to do now. I’m very distressed. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to travel at all. My son
is very upset. He doesn’t want to leave me.”

Earlier in the day, before her travel was cancelled, Alali had a meeting with the IOM. She said she was happy but worried -- the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals still hadn’t made a decision on
whether President Trump’s travel ban should be reinstated.

“We have to be at the airport tomorrow at 6 am. And God willing we will depart at 10:30,” she said following the meeting.

“We are going to New York tomorrow. I’m going to buy a suitcase now and then go home. I’ve already weighed my bags so I just need to move things to the new bag and then I’ll be ready. I’m very
happy, but I’m also a little afraid. The court still hasn’t made a decision. I’m scared that something I haven’t expected will happen, that the ban will come back into effect. But I’m very happy

because I’m going to see my brothers that I haven’t seen for about 10 years and my dad who I haven’t seen for almost five years. My son is also happy that he might get a better life. My dad is
happy because he needs me.”

Feb. 6

The decision by a federal judge to place a temporary restraining order on Trump’s ban has failed to allay Alali’s fears.

"As a single mother without any kind of support, loneliness and fear accompanies me for now, but I still trust the people and I hope things will change because justice and mercy are what makes us
humans. I think this cruel decision will face refusal by the court. But the process will take a long time. Now, I'm waiting for a call from IOM [The International Organization for Migration] to set
a new date for departure. They promised to do the best they could before 'The Ban' starts once again. So I'm in terror of what's next to come."

UPDATE:

Later in the day, Alali sent ABC News the following message in Arabic:

"The IOM just called me and told me that they booked me a flight on Feb. 9. So that's in three days. They told me that if anything happens or if they cancel the flight, they will let me know.

UPDATE 2:

The International Rescue Committee was assigned Alali’s case in January and is involved in the planning of her arrival in the U.S. Karen Ferguson, IRC executive director in northern California,
told ABC News on Wednesday:

“This is a perfect example of how timing will determine the fate of the unification of this family. It would never have occurred to me that all of a sudden this family’s case would be interrupted.
Isn’t she the exact type of person we would want here? She’s a dentist, she’s a survivor. She ran her own clinic in Syria. She fled terrorism. She has family here who’s willing to support her. And
this is the person we’re going to bar?”

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Wednesday
Feb152017

Like a spy movie:' In Seoul, assassination of Kim Jong Un’s brother captivates, but doesn’t amaze

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) — The assassination of Kim Jong Nam is presumed to have been based on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “paranoia” about his half-brother, according to South Korea’s top spy agency. Kim Jong Nam was poisoned to death by two Asian women at Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Tuesday.

Public reactions in Seoul are of shock and horror, if not amazement.

“We all know how brutal and psychotic Kim Jong Un is, but news every hour has been more like a spy movie,” said Park Choon Ho, a 60-year-old taxi driver.

“Kim Jong Un is cruel and cold-blooded but this [assassination] only shows how insecure his political power stands,” noted Kim Do Yeon, a college student.

Getting rid of the eldest son of the late Kim Jong Il has been a long “standing order” from Pyongyang, said South Korea’s national intelligence chief Lee Byung Ho at a briefing to the National Assembly.

North Korean agents had actually attempted to assassinate Kim in early 2012, which led Kim to write a letter to his younger half brother, asking for mercy for him and his family.

“I ask for you to cancel the punishment order on me and my family. We have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. We clearly know that the only way to run away is to commit suicide,” the letter said.

Kim Jong Nam's first legitimate wife and eldest son, Kim Han Sol, are residing in Beijing. His second wife and their son and daughter have been living in Macao. The family members are under protection by the Chinese government, the spy agency confirmed.

The South Korean government has doubled the number of security guards protecting North Korean defectors who have held senior political positions in Pyongyang.

The national military also announced plans to spread the news to North Korean residents who are completely blinded from outside information by resuming news broadcasts on dozens of loudspeakers facing the North along the inter-Korean border.

CCTV footage from the domestic check-in area at the airport showed two young Asian women approaching Kim. One woman was wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with the block letters “LOL.” Jong Nam had complained to a ground attendant that someone had covered his nose and mouth with a piece of cloth and that his eyes burned. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Police in Malaysia have arrested an alleged 29-year-old female secret agent traveling on Vietnamese documents.

An autopsy of Kim Jong Nam's body has been completed at a morgue in the presence of the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, but the results are still unknown.

ABC News' Hong Yoo, from Seoul, and Maureen Jeyasooriar, from Kuala Lumpur, contributed to this report.

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Wednesday
Feb152017

Russian spy ship 30 miles from US Navy sub base

U.S. Navy photo by John Narewski (RELEASED) (NEW LONDON, Conn.) -- A Russian spy ship is now 30 miles south of New London, Connecticut, where a U.S. Navy submarine base is located.

The Viktor Leonov, a Russian intelligence gathering ship, had been making its way north along the East Coast of the United States. On Monday, the vessel was 70 miles off the coast of Delaware.

U.S. officials have said that the spy ship was likely headed to a location near Connecticut in international waters where it could be close to the submarine base in New London. U.S. territorial waters extend 12 miles from shore to the vessel.

According to a U.S. official, the Leonov is currently "loitering" about 30 miles south of New London.

The Leonov is equipped with communications and signal intelligence gathering equipment.

In recent years, Russian spy ships have been spotted operating near King's Bay, Georgia, the Navy's other submarine base along the East Coast.

The Leonov was in the mid-Atlantic about a month ago, apparently headed to the Caribbean.

In early February, the ship made a port of call in Kingston, Jamaica, before taking a path that took it north to the United States.

If the ship follows past Russian practice, it will head back to Cuba after completing its mission in the Northeast.

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Wednesday
Feb152017

Four themes to watch as Trump hosts Netanayhu

iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet face-to-face with President Trump on Wednesday, setting the tone for what both leaders hope to be the dawn of a new era for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Analysts say that the meeting will hope to project a public theme of unity between the two governments on topics including Iran, Israeli settlements and the fate of the peace process.

"Both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have a very big stake in wanting to demonstrate that whatever the problems were with the last administration, they're now gone," Dennis Ross, a diplomat and former special Middle East coordinator under Clinton, told reporters on a call this week.

While close security and economic ties between the U.S. and Israel continued and expanded during the previous U.S. administration, Netanyahu and then-President Obama often sparred on a number of key issues, particularly over the contours of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and the U.S.-brokered Iranian nuclear deal, which the Israeli leader forcefully denounced.

"There's a strong presumption [now] to send a message how close things are between the two leaders ... to demonstrate that the U.S. and Israel are on the same page strategically and practically," Ross added.

Analysts say that while Iran is likely to figure at the top of Netanyahu's agenda, Israeli settlements, the location of the U.S. Embassy and the peace process are also likely to factor in.

Iran


"The Prime Minister probably comes in with an agenda very heavily focused on Iran," Ross said.

Much of that focus concerns Iranian policy in the region and the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 between Tehran and the so-called P5+1, which Netanyahu opposed.

During his campaign, Trump voiced strong opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and in recent weeks has taken to Twitter to directly threaten Iran. While the administration has thus far continued U.S. participation in the agreement, Trump has expressed an interest in re-negotiating its terms.

Ross said Netanyahu is unlikely to demand a scrap to the agreement altogether, in part because he is determined to work well with Trump out of the gate.

"I think what he [Netanyahu] wants is some understanding -- and awareness not just about enforcement of the deal but that more needs to be done to deter the Iranians," Ross said.

Writing on Facebook on Jan. 30 after an Iranian ballistic missile test, Netanyahu said that “Iranian aggression must not go unanswered,” pledging to discuss with Trump “the renewal of sanctions against Iran in this context and in other contexts.”

In retaliation to the ballistic missile test, the Trump administration on Feb. 3 announced sanctions against Iran, a narrowly tailored action that did not alter the terms of the nuclear agreement that saw Iran receive sanctions relief in exchange for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Embassy moves


On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move opposed by past U.S. administrations because both Israelis and Palestinians claim it as their capital. The U.S. has long maintained that the status of the city should be determined in final status negotiations between the two parties.

Still, there have been some suggestions that Trump has slightly softened his stance.

"His policy seems to be settling back into the mean," former U.S. Ambassador to Israel under President Obama, Daniel B. Shapiro, told Israeli TV channel i24, "which is to support efforts to a two-state solution, to support efforts to limit settlements and not to do things that might be disruptive and moving the embassy might fall into that category."

"It's not an easy decision," Trump said last weekend to the Israeli right-wing newspaper Israel Hayom, a free daily which is supported by Trump donor and Netanyahu patron Sheldon Adelson. "It's been discussed for so many years. No one wants to make this decision, and I'm thinking about it seriously."

But Netanyahu has long supported the move, and is likely to again bring it up.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and it is proper that not only should the American Embassy be here, but all embassies should come here,” Netanyahu said in January.

Settlements


Since Trump took office on Jan. 20, Netanyahu has ratcheted up settlement expansion, a signal that the White House is far less critical of building in the occupied Palestinian territories than past administrations.

In the last three weeks, Netanyahu announced the approval of more than 6,000 housing units and the first new settlement since the 1990s. The United Nations considers settlements illegal, and they have long been a bone of contention between the U.S. and Israel.

But Trump's pick for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is an ardent supporter of Israeli settlements and has opposed the two-state solution.

Nonetheless, Trump in the same interview with Israel Hayom seemed to moderate past statements, saying settlements were an obstacle to peace.

"There is limited remaining territory. Every time you take land for a settlement, less territory remains," he told the newspaper. "No, I'm not someone who believes that advancing settlements is good for peace."

Peace negotiations


President Trump has called reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace the "ultimate deal," and has identified his son-in-law and senior adviser the president Jared Kushner as the man for the job.

"I think we can reach an agreement and that we need to reach an agreement," Trump told Israel Hayom. "I want Israel to act reasonably in the peace process,” he added.

Briefing reporters Tuesday night, a White House official said that the peace process was a priority, but would not commit to pushing the two-state solution which has been the cornerstone of U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades.

"Maybe, maybe not," the official said in response to a question about the two-state solution. "It's something the two sides have to agree to. It's not for us to impose that vision."

The official added: "We're looking at the two sides to come together to make peace together and we'll be there to help them."

When asked by a reporter on the tarmac leaving Tel Aviv this week if he stands by a two-state solution, which he has at various times opposed or supported, Netanyahu responded: “Come with me, you will hear very clear answers, very clear answers."
 
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Tuesday
Feb142017

US will not insist on two-state solution in Middle East: White House official

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In what would be a major shift from the policy position held by the Obama administration, a White House official said Thursday night that the United States will not “impose” a two-state solution in the Middle East in an attempt to settle the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Maybe, maybe not," said the official when asked at a White House briefing whether peace equaled a two-state solution. "It's something the two sides have to agree to. It's not for us to impose that vision. But I think we'll find out more about that tomorrow."

President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday at the White House.

"A two-state solution that doesn't bring peace is not our goal that anybody wants to achieve," the official said. "Peace is the goal, whether it comes in the form of a two-state solution if that's what the parties want or something else, if that's what the parties want, we're going to help them."

President Obama’s administration emphasized the importance of two states to achieving lasting peace.

At the final news conference of his presidency on Jan. 18, Obama said that he did not see how, as the situation currently stands, “this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy.”

“Because if you do not have two states, then in some form or fashion you are extending an occupation, functionally you end up having one state in which millions of people are disenfranchised and operate as second class residents,” said Obama.

In late December, the U.S. abstained from a United Nations vote calling for the end of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a move that received criticism from Israel, which sought the U.S.’s veto, as well as Trump.

“This resolution reflects trends that will permanently destroy the two-state solution if they continue on their current course,” said then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.

Trump, as president-elect in December, warned via Twitter that a change would be coming on policy related to the region, specifically referencing the U.N. vote and saying, “things will be different.”

 

 

Later that week in December, Obama's secretary of state, John Kerry, made the policy a centerpiece of remarks on Middle East peace.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Kerry. “It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future, freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people and it is an important way of advancing the United States’ interests in the region.”

The Trump official at Tuesday evening’s briefing insinuated that the policy hinged on a clearer definition of the proposal, saying “If I ask five people what a two-state solution is, I get eight different answers.”

As to whether Trump and Netanyahu would use the term at their meeting Wednesday, the official demurred.

"We're looking at the two sides to come together to make peace together and we'll be there to help them," the official said.

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Tuesday
Feb142017

Russian aircraft buzzed US Navy ship 3 times in a day

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon says Russian aircraft flew low and fast above an American destroyer in the Black Sea last week in an "unsafe and unprofessional" manner and a Russian intelligence vessel has been detected heading north along the eastern coast of the United States.

On Feb. 10, the Navy destroyer USS Porter noted three “unsafe and unprofessional” encounters with Russian military aircraft while in the Black Sea. In each of the incidents Russian aircraft approached the destroyer at an unspecified "low altitude" and some were at "high speed".

The Russian aircraft did not have their transponders on and did not respond when the destroyer's crew hailed the planes on radio.

“Such incidents are concerning because they can result in accident or miscalculation,” said Lt. Colonel Michelle Baldanza, a Pentagon spokesman.

Russia's Defense Ministry denied any incidents occurred on Feb. 10 between Russian aircraft and the USS Porter. "All flights of our aircraft are done and have been done in neutral waters of the Black Sea in accordance with the international rights and security demands" said Igor Konashenkov, a Defense ministry spokesman.

Last April Russian fighters repeatedly buzzed an American destroyer in the Baltic Sea, with one pass coming as close as 30 feet to the USS Donald Cook. That incident was one of several close encounters between the U.S. and Russian militaries in 2016, but officials have said recently that such encounters had become infrequent.

At the time of the incident Baldanza said the destroyer was "conducting routine maritime operations in international waters in the Black Sea following the conclusion of Exercise Sea Shield."

According to Baldanza the first encounter involved a Russian Ilyushin 38, a maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. The plane "flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner due to the unusually low altitude" above the USS Porter.

The second incident involved two SU-24 fighters and the third a different Su-24. A U.S. official said that on one pass one of the fighters flew 300 feet above the USS Porter.

Meanwhile American officials are not expressing concern about the presence of a Russian intelligence gathering ship headed northward along the East Coast. The White House deferred comment to the Defense Department on this issue.

According to a U.S. official, the Russian intelligence vessel Viktor Leonov was located 70 miles off the coast of Delaware yesterday in international waters heading in a northerly direction. American territorial waters extend 12 miles out to sea.

The official said the speculation is that the Russian ship is headed near the U.S. Navy's submarine base at New London, Connecticut.

Russian military monitoring of U.S. sub bases used to happen frequently during the Cold War, but became infrequent after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 2015, another Russian spy ship made its way south along the East Coast past the sub base at Kings Bay, Georgia, but was apparently mapping underwater communications cables off the Florida coast.

If the Leonov follows previous deployment patterns it will eventually head to south to Cuba.

The official says there is not much concern about the Leonov's movements or its intelligence gathering capabilities.

The Russian ship was in the mid-Atlantic a month ago and made a port of call in Kingston, Jamaica in early February.

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Tuesday
Feb142017

Senate committee may call on Flynn to testify amid Russia questions

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republican leaders said Tuesday that former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn may be called to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russia’s suspected involvement in the 2016 election and the Trump administration’s potential ties to the nation.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and part of the Republican leadership, told reporters that he thought it was likely that Flynn would, at some point, talk to the committee about “both post-election activities and any other activities that he would be aware of.”

Flynn resigned from his post Monday amid a swirl of questions about his calls to the Russian ambassador ahead of the inauguration. He also apologized to the vice president for misleading him about the communications, an official told ABC News.

The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, was less committal than Blunt, but said he would not rule out calling Flynn to testify.

“We will cast a wide net to look at individuals who can provide us additional insight into what went on,” Burr told ABC News.

The top Democrat on the committee, Mark Warner, of Virginia, had said definitively that he wanted Flynn to testify.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who also serves on the committee, said he would like to see the transcripts of the Flynn calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which the two discussed sanctions on Russia during the Trump team’s transition to the White House, current and former U.S. officials confirmed to ABC last week.

Trump has maintained he has no connections with or economic ties to Russia, as he insisted in this Jan. 11 tweet.

 

 

And while calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador are under investigation no clear evidence of wrongdoing has been found as of yet.

While Republicans mostly insisted that the investigation should be limited to those committees that have already begun Russia investigations, Democrats say that's not enough -- calling for a bipartisan committee to investigate as well.

“It’s critical that we fully understand the extent of the Russian government’s attempts to influence our elections and government—and we need to form a bipartisan Select Committee to investigate,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, said in a statement.

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Tuesday
Feb142017

Kim Jong-un's half-brother killed in Malaysia, sources report

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was assassinated on Monday at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport, according to South Korean media outlets citing government sources.

Kim Jong-nam, the first-born son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was sprayed with poison by two unidentified women who fled the scene in a taxi, according to the reports.

Malaysian police said in a statement Tuesday that a 46-year-old North Korean man "who sought initial medical assistance at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport" died on Monday en route to the hospital.

The police said that the man's travel document identified him as "Kim Chol," a North Korean born on June 10, 1970. Kim Chol is the name of another brother of Kim Jong-un, although South Korean government officials told South Korean media that the name in the passport was an alias for Kim Jong-nam.

The State Department told ABC News it was aware of the reports and referred questions about the death to Malaysian authorities. The South Korean embassy in Washington told ABC News it did not have independent confirmation, but was monitoring press coverage.

Many feared that Kim could be assassinated after Kim Jong-un took office in April 2012. A fierce rivalry between the two half-brothers ran deep due to succession conflicts. Kim Jong-nam, as the eldest son in the family, had long been expected to rule North Korea after Kim Jong-il's death, backed by the Communist Party seniors including Jang Sung Taek.

Jang, the uncle of two rival brothers, was considered number two in power, but was brutally executed a year after Kim Jong-un took power.

"North Korea is a society where you will be easily executed, not because of your difference in political reasons, but because of simple reasons, that you angered Kim Jong Un," said Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat and the highest level official to have defected to South Korea in two decades.

Kim Jong-nam reportedly fell out of favor in Pyongyang after being caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001. He said he was heading to Tokyo Disneyland with his family. Since then, Kim has been in exile moving discreetly around several countries including China, Macao, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. His son, Kim Han Sol, was recently enrolled at Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, according to South Korean media.

The two brothers have never met in person, according to North Korea analysts in Seoul. But Kim Jong-un has always regarded the outspoken Kim Jong-nam as a potential political threat.

For instance, Kim Jong-un has been building up his personal image after their late grandfather and founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, to win popularity from the people and to justify the unforeseen power succession. The late Kim Il Sung is still revered by the people as the pillar of the nation.

From the moment he began appearing in public, Kim Jong-un has emphasized striking similarities with his grandfather, like gaining weight, wearing the same eyeglasses and even having an identical haircut. But it was the elder brother, Kim Jong-nam, who grew up close to their grandfather.

The fact that Kim Jong-nam was born to the first legitimate wife of late Kim Jong-il also took a toll on Kim Jong-un. The current leader’s birth mother was the third wife, Koh Yong Hee, who came from a family that had defected from North Korea to Japan, which is looked down upon in a country where generations of continued loyalty to the regime is essential.


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