SEOUL, AFP and AP

SEOUL, AFP and AP — North Korea warned Saturday the U.S. will “pay dearly” if it puts Pyongyang on a terror list over the killing of its leader’s half brother, as a suspect in the murder claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy. Kim Jong Nam, 45, was poisoned in Malaysia last month with VX, a nerve agent so deadly that it is classed as a weapon of mass destruction. The dramatic killing at Kuala Lumpur airport prompted an international probe, lurid stories of North Korea’s Cold War-style tradecraft and a bitter war of words between Malaysia and Pyongyang. South Korean and Japanese media, citing diplomatic sources, have since reported that the U.S. has been mulling placing the North back on its terror list, which includes Iran and Syria. “The U.S. will keenly realize how dearly it has to pay for its groundless accusations against the dignified” North if it puts it back on the terror list, the regime’s foreign ministry spokesman told state-run newswire KCNA.

The spokesman maintained that Pyongyang opposed “all forms of terrorism” and accused the U.S. of trying to tarnish its reputation. South Korea has blamed the North for the murder, citing what they say was a standing order from leader Kim Jong Un to kill his exiled half brother who may have been seen as a potential rival. ‘A conspiracy’ However, the only North Korean arrested over the assassination on Saturday denounced Malaysia’s probe into the murder as “a conspiracy to impair the dignity of the Republic (North Korea).” Ri Jong Chol, who was released and deported Friday due to lack of evidence, spoke to reporters in Beijing early Saturday while on his way to Pyongyang, claiming the Malaysian police threatened to harm his family if he didn’t confess to the assassination. Ri said he wasn’t at the airport the day Kim was killed but that police accused him of being a mastermind and presented him with “fake evidence.” He said they showed him a picture of his wife and two children, who were staying with him in Kuala Lumpur, and threatened to kill them.

“These men kept telling me to admit to the crime, and if not, my whole family would be killed, and you too won’t be safe. If you accept everything, you can live a good life in Malaysia,” Ri said. “This is when I realized that it was a trap … they were plotting to tarnish my country’s reputation.”

“But no way. No matter how good a life it could be, it is still not as good as my own motherland. How could I forget the motherland that raised me and fed me to this point?” he said to media in Beijing.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told The Associated Press he will hold a presser on Tuesday to respond to Ri’s comments.

Immigration Director-General Mustafar Ali said Friday that Ri has been blacklisted from re-entering Malaysia.