KUALA LUMPUR: At a glitzy bar in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, just a stone’s throw from the Petronas Twin Towers, the Beach Club was where 25-year-old Indonesian Siti Aisyah was first introduced to a North Korean man known as James.
Described as shy and attractive by a colleague, Siti was a part-time masseuse at a unisex spa in a KL suburb.
Siti and James hit it off and met several times before she was coaxed by him to star in a reality TV show.
With the little command of English that he had, James was able to coach her to play pranks on strangers on busy streets in Kuala Lumpur, at malls, train stations and hotels.
Together they executed more than 10 pranks and Siti was paid US$100 to US$150 each time, depending on her performance.
Smitten by James, who was young, fair and handsome, Siti unintentionally snapped a picture of him. It was from her phone that the Malaysian police retrieved a photo of James.
He was later identified as 30-year-old Ri Ji U, the youngest of eight North Korean men wanted by the Malaysian police in connection to the high-profile murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
According to Malaysia police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, James is believed to be hiding in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur together with second secretary Hyon Kwang Song and Air Koryo employee Kim Uk Il.
According to inside sources, James later took Siti to Phnom Pehn to meet his boss, who introduced himself as a Chinese man by the name of "Chang". Mr Chang was fluent in both Mandarin and Indonesian, and gave Siti an ointment and told her to smear it on the face of next prank target.
When they returned to Kuala Lumpur, they had several more practices before the final act on Feb 13. Two nights before the attack, Siti celebrated her birthday with James and his friends, and they told her she was fast becoming a superstar in Korea.
According to the same source, "Chang" was later identified by police as 32-year-old Hang Song Hac, one of four North Korean suspects who are believed to be the masterminds of the murder plot. They were caught on CCTV footage at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 and boarded the flight for Jakarta on the same day of the attack.
Kim Jong Nam died on the way to the hospital, just 20 minutes after the attack. Traces of VX nerve agent were reportedly found on his face and eyes.
Malaysian police have obtained an Interpol "red notice" on the four men, including Hong Song Hac. They are seeking help from Interpol member countries, including China, to arrest and extradite them to Malaysia to face murder charges.
Siti, together with 29-year-old Vietnamese Doan Thi Huang, have been charged with the murder of Kim under Section 302 of the penal code which carries the death penalty. Siti has insisted that she had never met the Vietnamese woman until that day at the airport.