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Accused in Malaysia airport murder brought to court in bullet-proof vests

KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia on Wednesday charged two women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – with murdering the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader in an assassination using a super-toxic nerve agent that killed in minutes.

Siti Aishah, a 25-year-old mother of one from Jakarta, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from rural northern Vietnam, could be hanged if they are convicted for the killing of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13.

Police brought the two women to court handcuffed and wearing bullet-proof vests. No plea was recorded after the charges were read out against them.

Aishah and Huong have told diplomats who visited them in custody that they were unwitting pawns in an assassination that U.S. officials and South Korean intelligence have said was organised by North Korean agents.

The next court date will be on April 13, when prosecutors will apply for the accused to be tried jointly.

Kim Jong Nam, who had criticised the regime of his family and his half-brother Kim Jong Un, died after the two women allegedly smeared VX nerve agent, a chemical described by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, across his face.

The charges against Aishah were read first, followed by those against Huong.

According to the charges the women and four unnamed people, who are still at large, were at the departure hall of the airport, with intention to murder the North Korean citizen.

One North Korean man, identified by police as Ri Jong Chol, is still in police custody and has not been charged yet.

Malaysian police arrested both women in the days after the attack. Security camera footage, which has been broadcast in the media, showed them assaulting Kim Jong Nam at the airport. He died within 20 minutes.

Both women have told diplomats from their countries that they had been paid to take part in what they believed was a prank for a reality television show.

Speaking in Jakarta, Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir hoped Aishah would receive a fair trial.

“We hope that the principle of a defendant being presumed innocent until proven guilty will be adhered to,” Nasir said.

“The lawyer that has been appointed will make the case for Siti and we hope that she gets a fair trial, afforded all her legal rights and not tried by the public.”

Huong, the Vietnamese woman, was detained 48 hours after the murder in the same airport terminal where Kim Jong Nam was killed.

She is believed to be the woman wearing a white shirt emblazoned with the acronym “LOL”, whose image was caught on security cameras while waiting for a taxi after the attack.

The Indonesian woman, Aishah, was detained a day later.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA; writing by Praveen Menon and A.Ananthalakshmi; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)