A lone assassin from Kim Jong-un’s inner circle is most likely to kill the North Korean leader, according to an academic study.

Kim Jong-un watches anti-landing exercises somewhere in North Korea in March.
Kim Jong-un watches anti-landing exercises somewhere in North Korea in March

Earlier, there had been attempts on the life of his predecessor and father, Kim Jong-Il.

The study said the Hollywood comedy film, The Interview, faced strong backlash from Pyongyang as it had “the potential to inspire assassins” inside North Korea.

The regime promised “merciless retaliation” to the release of the movie, which depicted the fictional assassination of Kim, and unleashed a damaging cyber-attack against Sony Pictures.

The study by Sungmin Cho, a graduate student at Georgetown University, which was published in the International Journal of Korean Studies, considers four possible assassination scenarios involving Kim’s own citizens from a group of plotters through to a close confidant acting alone.

These include the stabbing of Caesar by Roman politicians, Lee Harvey Oswald’s killing of US President John F Kennedy and the Valkyrie plot in which a group of German officers tried and failed to kill Hitler with a bomb.

But the most likely is the Kim Jae-gyu scenario, named after the head of the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency, who in 1979 assassinated Park Chung-hee, the president.

Cho concluded: “First, I argue that the assassination of Kim Jong-un is more likely to be carried out by a lone assassin than by a group of plotters owing to the Kim family regime’s coup-proof measures.

“Second, the lone assassin is most likely to be one of the regime’s top officials, not an unknown ordinary citizen, and the assassination is most likely to occur in a non-public situation like a banquet or secret meeting.”

The assassination of Kim is likely to trigger chain reactions at all levels from a coup d’etat to mass uprising at a fast pace, the study said.

Washington and Seoul should consider a timely and bold intervention before a civil war breaks out in North Korea following an assassination, the study said. They may have to prepare for the worst scenario like a civil war with North Korean weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands.

Consulting with China is not only necessary, but can be instrumental. In case of a Brutus-type assassination occurring in North Korea, Washington and Seoul need to talk with Beijing secretly to avoid miscalculation with each other in a highly volatile situation.

In case of the Oswald or Kim Jae-gyu type assassination, Washington and Seoul should deliberately pursue an open dialogue with Beijing as a way to influence the domestic politics of North Korea after an ‘assassination’ of Kim.

The very act of predicting the assassination of Kim can influence the real chances of such an event occurring in reality. Probably because of the potentially dangerous effects of a self-fulfilling prophecy, there has been a lack of open discussion about the possibility of the assassination of Kim in Washington and Seoul, the study said.

Cho said his study “is not designed to advocate the policy of assassination” but rather “an assessment of potential future events within North Korea.”

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