JAKARTA: “She was very timid, she mostly kept to herself, and she didn’t speak to anyone.” These were the words Nihaya, a mother of two, used to describe her neighbour, 25-year-old Siti Aisyah, whom she said was already living within the narrow lanes of Angke in Tambora, West Jakarta when she moved there in 2010.
From a picture of Siti in her passport, she looks like an ordinary person but at the moment, this could not be further from the truth.
Siti is one of two women currently being detained by Malaysian authorities as suspects in the high-profile killing of Kim Jong Nam, the elder and estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A 26-year-old Malaysian man, identified as her boyfriend, Muhammad Farid Jalaluddin, was also arrested to assist in investigations. The other woman detained is a 28-year-old holding a Vietnamese passport.
The tale of how Kim Jong Nam was assassinated sounds like elements of a spy movie, ranging from theories that the women were North Korean agents, to needles and poison-laced cloth being used in the killing. While Malaysia is yet to release results of an autopsy, where Siti is concerned, her background paints a completely different picture.
"SHE IS THE VICTIM"
“My daughter is a good person. She is the victim in this case,” Siti’s mother told Channel NewsAsia over the phone on Friday (Feb 17).
Benah, who lives in Ciomas in the province of Banten outside of Jakarta, said she first heard about the case from the news on television on Thursday night.
She then received a phone call from her daughter’s former mother-in-law, asking if she knew what happened.
“I am so shocked by this. We are all so worried,” she said of her family. She added that no officials had visited her yet.
Tjia Liang Kong - who identified himself as Akiong - is Siti’s former father-in-law. Speaking to journalists at his home in Tambora, West Jakarta, he also said his first emotion when hearing the news was that of disbelief.
“What, really?!” These were Akiong's first words when he found out about the assassination involving his former daughter-in-law, whom he calls Neng or “little girl". He described her as a “kind, polite, and respectful person".
Siti was married to his son, Gunawan Hasyim - known as Ajun - and the two lived in a house painted red along a narrow lane deep in the neighbourhood of Tambora, West Jakarta, before moving to Malaysia in 2011 to seek a better life.
The couple, who were married in 2008, divorced in 2012. They have a son who lives with Akiong and his wife.
According to the head of the Angke community, R Yusril, no one in the community had seen Siti since she left the country. Mr Yusril said Ajun sorted out the divorce on his own, which was done traditionally to avoid expensive court fees. When told of the accusations against Siti, Yusril said that he could not believe it.
“From what I saw every day, she was innocent, an introvert. She didn't have the experience, because she is a person who is from a village," he said. "Even her parents are farmers, her mother sells brooms in their village, (they are) very simple people."
No one in the community has been in touch with her since she left, he added.
Outside of the community, she last visited her former in-laws. She went to see her son on Jan 28 for Chinese New Year and told Akiong that she was “sick".
But since the divorce, ties between the former family members had been kept to a minimum, with few interactions between them.
WHO IS SITI AISYAH?
After the divorce, Akiong said Siti worked at a shoe factory in her home city of Serang before moving to Batam in the Riau islands province. According to her mother Benah, Siti worked in a clothing shop there.
Local media reports said immigration data showed that Siti had visited Indonesia earlier this year and had returned by ferry to Johor, Malaysia, from Riau province’s Batam on Feb 2.
Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, director for citizens' protection and legal aid at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told journalists at a press conference on Friday that Siti had visited Malaysia several times for short visits, but was not a migrant worker.
Currently, Siti remains in remand with Malaysian authorities. The Indonesian embassy has requested consular access so that it can provide legal assistance.