Indonesian woman accused of killing Kim Jong Un's half-brother released, charges dropped

One of the two women accused of killing Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in a daring airport ambush was freed from custody Monday after prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charges against her.

Indonesia's Siti Aisyah was accused in the killing, which involved the smearing of VX nerve agent on the face of the North Korean leader’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, while he was walking in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017.

CCTV footage showed one of the two women placing her hands over Kim's face and then both women leaving the scene.

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Aisyah – and her co-defendant Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam – have maintained their innocence, saying they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. The two had been the only suspects in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed. Huong remained in custody Monday and it wasn't immediately clear how the dismissal of charges against Aisyah would affect Huong's trial going forward.

“I am in shock. My mind is black,” Huong told reporters after Aisyah was ushered away from the courtroom in an Indonesian Embassy car Monday.

Officials said she was expected to fly back to Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, later Monday.

"I feel very happy," Aisyah said at a news conference at the Indonesian Embassy. "I didn't expect that today will be my freedom day."

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, center, leaves Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Monday, March 11, 2019. The Indonesian woman held two years on suspicion of killing North Korean leader's half brother Kim Jong Nam was freed from custody Monday after prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her. (Kyodo News via AP)

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, center, leaves Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Monday, March 11, 2019. The Indonesian woman held two years on suspicion of killing North Korean leader's half brother Kim Jong Nam was freed from custody Monday after prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her. (Kyodo News via AP)

Wearing a red headscarf and a black, flowery traditional dress, Aisyah maintained her composure during the news conference and said she was treated well in prison.

The High Court judge discharged Aisyah without an acquittal after prosecutors applied to drop the murder charge against her. They did not give a reason for the sudden move.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said Aisyah's discharge without an acquittal means she can be charged again if there is fresh evidence, but there are no such plans now.

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Indonesia's government said its continued high-level lobbying resulted in Aisyah's release. The country's foreign ministry said in a statement that Aisyah was "deceived and did not realize at all that she was being manipulated by North Korean intelligence."

It said Aisyah, a migrant worker, never had any intention of killing Kim.

The ministry said that during the past two years, Aisyah's plight was raised in "every bilateral Indonesia-Malaysia meeting," including at the presidential level, the vice presidential level and in regular meetings of the foreign minister and other ministers with their Malaysian counterparts.

In contrast to Indonesia's strong push, Vietnam has not lobbied as aggressively for Huong's release, and recently hosted Kim Jong Un for an official visit and a summit with President Donald Trump.

Huong's trial is to resume Thursday when prosecutors are expected to reply to a request by her lawyers for the government to also withdraw the charges against her.

Huong's lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said Huong felt Aisyah's discharge was unfair to her because the judge last year had found sufficient evidence to continue the murder trial against them.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, foreground, is escorted by police as she arrives at Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Monday, March 11, 2019. The trial of two Southeast Asian women charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam, North Korean leader's half brother, resumed Monday after months of delay, with the Vietnamese suspect taking the stand to begin her defense. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, foreground, is escorted by police as she arrives at Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Monday, March 11, 2019. The trial of two Southeast Asian women charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam, North Korean leader's half brother, resumed Monday after months of delay, with the Vietnamese suspect taking the stand to begin her defense. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

"She is entitled to the same kind of consideration as Aisyah," he said. "We are making representation to the attorney general for Doan to be taken equally...there must be justice."

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Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don't want the trial politicized.

Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea's ruling family. He had been living abroad for years but could have been seen as a threat to Kim Jong Un's rule.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.