A man claiming to be the son of Kim Jong-nam, the recently slain half brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, has surfaced in a 39-second video posted on YouTube Thursday. There is some confusion over whether the man, who identifies himself as Kim Han-sol, is who he says he is, though he does bear a strong resemblance to the Kim Han-sol interviewed in 2012 by former Finnish defense minister Elisabeth Rehn.
In the video, posted by a channel belonging to Cheollima Civil Defense, a previously unknown organization, Mr. Kim speaks in English and offers a North Korean official’s passport as proof of his identity, though the personal identification information is blacked out.
"My name is Kim Han-sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family," he says in the clip. "My father has been killed a few days ago. I'm currently with my mother and my sister.... We hope this gets better soon."
Kim Han-sol was born in Pyonyang, North Korea, but the 21-year-old has spent most of his life abroad, living mainly in Macau, China, and attending school in France and Bosnia.
A South Korean National Intelligence Service official, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said that it had been determined that the man in the video is Kim Han-sol, but did not say how that determination had been made.
However, South Korea's Unification Ministry, a department of the government that works toward the reunification of North and South Korea, said they had no knowledge of the Cheollima Civil Defense group. The website on which the video was initially posted was registered only on Saturday, using a Panama-based protection service to obscure the ownership of the web address.
"Cheollima" is a winged mythical horse in East Asian folklore capable of traveling vast distances. According to the group’s website, the group actively hides its web footprint in its efforts to assist high-level North Korean defectors escape the country and protect them in situations like Kim Han-sol’s. The site encourages others to join the organization by sending requests to an address hosted by a Switzerland-based encrypted-email service, and also advertises the fact that it accepts Bitcoin donations.
“Cheollima Civil Defense responded last month to an emergency request by survivors of the family of Kim Jong-nam for extraction and protection,” reads a statement on the site. “The three family members were met quickly and relocated to safety. We have in the past addressed other urgent needs for protection. This will be the first and last statement on this particular matter, and the present whereabouts of this family will not be addressed.”
The site also expresses “gratitude” for the assistance of China, the Netherlands, the United States and “a fourth government to remain unnamed” for their assistance in protecting Kim Han-sol’s family. It also thanked Lody Embrechts, the Dutch ambassador to North and South Korea, though Mr. Embrechts himself declined to comment on the situation.
"We are aware of these reports,” a spokeswoman for Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “The MFA cannot comment on them.”
If the organization is legitimate, it would have good reason to maintain the cloak-and-dagger setup for the younger Mr. Kim. On Feb. 13, Kim Jong-nam was killed by two women who rubbed a deadly nerve agent on his face in a Malaysian airport. Speculation at the time wondered if his son would be next. Malaysia, which had had remarkably good relations with North Korea prior to the incident, has accused Kim Jong-un of orchestrating the hit in order to eliminate a potential challenger to his rule.
North Korea denies the claim.
This article contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.