Arrest stuns Indonesian family of Kim slaying suspect

Residents walk through the Tambora neighbourhood near the house where Siti Aisyah, the Indonesian woman suspected in the killing of Kim Jong-un's half-brother, used to live in Jakarta. (AP Photo)

JAKARTA: The family and former neighbours of an Indonesian woman implicated in the murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother have expressed disbelief that she could commit such a crime, describing her as a "good" and "simple country girl".

News reports that Malaysian police have arrested 25-year-old Siti Aisyah on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Kim Jong-nam on Monday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport have shocked her mother Benah, who said she has been unable to sleep.

"My daughter is not like that. She is just a simple country girl who left her hometown to seek a better life," Benah said by telephone from Ciomas in Banten province, 105 kilometres south of Jakarta.

"I was shocked. I, the whole family, couldn't sleep for the whole night. I felt lifeless and her father keeps praying," she said, while also calling on Malaysian authorities to free her daughter.

Malaysian authorities said on Friday that they would not release Kim's body, despite Pyongyang's request, until his family members provide DNA samples.

Detectives in Kuala Lumpur are trying to get to the bottom of the cloak-and-dagger murder that South Korea says was carried out by poison-wielding female agents working for Pyongyang.

Forensic specialists are now testing samples from the dead man's body to try to determine the toxin that apparently was sprayed in his face as he prepared to board a plane. He quickly fell ill and died en route to a hospital.

The Indonesian news portal Kumparan obtained the passport photo of assassination suspect Siti Aisyah. (AP Photo)

A family breadwinner, Aisyah worked at a clothing store in Batam, an Indonesian island near Singapore, and sent up to 1 million rupiah ($76) to her mother every month.

Agung Sampurno, a spokesman for the Indonesian Directorate General of Immigration, told Kyodo News the records at his office show that Aisyah took a ferry from the Indonesian island of Batam, off Singapore, to the southern Malaysian city of Johor Bahru on Feb 2. Since then, there were no records that she returned to Indonesia.

Aisyah's former father-in-law Tjia Liang Kiong, who runs a small garment business in Tambora, West Jakarta, a slum area where she and his son lived after getting married, confirmed that she worked in Batam.

He said he was unaware what she was doing in Malaysia, though she once lived and worked there with his son for a year before they got divorced.

Muhammad Lalu Iqbal, director for the protection of Indonesian overseas workers at Foreign Ministry, said Aisyah "had no permanent job in Malaysia" and did not have overseas worker status.

Benah first learned of her daughter's arrest when Tjia's wife telephoned her. Tjia said he heard about it from television before police and Foreign Ministry officials visited their house.

But Benah said she had not been contacted by the Indonesian authorities.

She said she tried several times to call or text her daughter but failed. It later occurred to her that her cell phone may have been confiscated by Malaysian police.

Like Benah, Tjia believes his former daughter-in-law is incapable of such a crime, describing her as a "nice, naive, polite and respectful person".

"Otherwise, I wouldn't have let my son marry her," he added.

"I just laughed when media reported that she might have been an intelligence agent. How could she be an agent? She can only speak Javanese and Sundanese (West Java dialect), doesn't speak English and only went to junior high school," said the Chinese-Indonesian, who runs a small garment business.

Minah, 45, a former neighbour in Tambora, said it was "impossible for a girl like Aisyah be able to kill a high-calibre person".

Neighbourhood community head Rahmat Yusri, who knew Aisyah and her then husband Gunawan Hasyim, said that the woman came from a very modest family and who would never think beyond her simple daily life.

Aisyah, who once worked for Tjia, married Gunawan in 2008 and their son was born in 2009.

As Tjia's family business collapsed, his son and daughter-in-law moved to Malaysia in 2011 to seek work, leaving their son with him.

Only one year later, Gunawan returned to Jakarta, telling Tjia, "I couldn't be a good head of family." Aisyah, accompanied by her mother, then visited her father-in-law, saying that she wanted a divorce.

After the divorce, Aisyah returned to Ciomas and worked at a shoe factory there before moving to Batam. Gunawan remarried and lives in the oil town of Dumai on Sumatra.

Aisyah regularly visited her son living with Tjia every Islamic holiday Eid al Fitr.

Tjia, who is ethnic Chinese, last met Aisyah for Chinese Lunar Year on Jan 28, at which time he noticed that she had lost weight.

"I asked her why she was so thin and she only answered that she was sick, coughing and pointing at her chest," he said, adding that she gave her son 300,000 rupiah.

"That was her last visit and she didn't say when she would come again," he said.

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