Death of Kim Jong Nam: Suspect's mum had bad feeling

The face of Siti Aisyah has been splashed on newspapers and news channels around the world as a suspect in the killing of North Korean exile Kim Jong Nam.

But Madam Benah is still trying to make sense of the media reports tying her daughter to a daring assassination straight out of a spy novel.

Speaking to The Sunday Times yesterday at her home in Serang, Madam Benah said that she believes her daughter is innocent and hopes that the Indonesian government will help the 25-year-old, the youngest of her three children.

"She is not the type of person who could do what she has been accused of," said Madam Benah, 50, her voice trembling with emotion.

Yesterday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi sent a request to Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman for access to Siti Aisyah, so that embassy staff can ensure she is accorded her legal rights.

Serang, a small town in Banten province, is two to three hours from Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, by car.

Last Monday, Mr Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was murdered by poison at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Read also: Assassins wipe, wash and flee the scene​

Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the case. Siti Aisyah was one of the two women arrested.

Her Malaysian boyfriend, Muhammad Farid Jalaluddin, 26, and North Korean Ri Jong Chol, 46, have also been picked up by police.

The other woman arrested was Doan Thi Huong, a 29-year-old Vietnamese national who was captured on closed-circuit television camera leaving the scene in a top emblazoned with the letters "LOL".

Madam Benah said she does not know Doan and the two men, adding that she always thought Siti Aisyah was a sales assistant in a clothing store in Batam.

She added that her daughter spoke some Korean and English, but would not comment on media reports that said Siti Aisyah had worked as a nightclub hostess or at a spa. Siti Aisyah would sometimes send her money - about 500,000 rupiah (S$53) each time, said Madam Benah.

Before Siti Aisyah went to work in Batam, she lived in Tambora, a district in West Jakarta, where she worked in a makeshift clothing factory run by the parents of her then husband Gunawan Hasyim.

The couple divorced in 2012 and their seven-year-old son Rio now lives with his paternal grandparents in Tambora.

Read also: 'Siti told me she was in a North Korean movie'​

Mr Gunawan's mother, Madam Lian Kiong, told Detik news that Siti Aisyah visited Rio about once a year.

"The last time she was here was on Jan 28," she said. "She spent the night with my grandson and then left the next day."

The last time Madam Benah saw her daughter was also last month, before Siti Aisyah travelled to Jakarta on Jan 24 to see her son.

An ABC News report yesterday said that Siti Aisyah had asked her mother to pray for her before she left for Malaysia.

"She said someone had asked her to join a TV filming production of tricking people in Malaysia," Madam Benah was quoted as saying.

"As a mother, I had a bad feeling about that, but she said, 'I need your blessing.'"

Read also: Indonesia struggling to get more info on Siti​

This is in line with comments by Indonesian National Police Chief Tito Karnavian, who said on Friday that Siti Aisyah may have been duped into thinking she was playing a prank on Mr Kim during the alleged assassination.

General Tito said Ms Siti is believed to have rehearsed the prank as many as three to four times, thinking it was for a TV show.

"Have you ever watched Just For Laughs? Those are pranks, and pranks are supposed to be funny," he said.

According to ABC News, Madam Benah's sister Mala also confirmed the story and said Siti Aisyah was involved in a Japanese TV production.

But a friend who met her in Serang last month was told that Siti Aisyah would be in a movie being filmed in North Korea.

"I don't know much about it," she told Detik news. "But that's what she said."

Madam Benah cannot accept that her daughter is a murderer. She believes the Malaysian police will release Siti Aisyah, saying: "I'm sure my daughter will come home soon, God willing."

Read also: Killer women recruited by a man three months ago​

Siti Aishah a 'victim' in Kim Jong-nam case: Indonesian VP

Kim Jong-nam's murder: So who is Siti Aisyah, really?

tkchan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 19, 2017.
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