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Is Kim Jong Un dead? Here’s what we know and don’t know

North Korea's Kim Jong Un. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
April 25, 2020

An increasing amount of rumors have been circulating since Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has fallen into a compromised state of health, that he is brain dead in an unresponsive coma, and even that he may be dead.

On Saturday rumors surrounding the North Korean leader again began to circulate after the vice director for HKSTV Hong Kong Satellite Television claimed a “very solid source” has said that Kim is dead.

U.S. officials have not confirmed whether or not the rumors of Kim’s supposed death are true.

In fact, no one has confirmed that Kim is dead but the rumors are flying around the internet and of course trending on the Twitter rumor mill.

On Friday the Japanese magazine Shukan Gendai reported Kim is in a comatose state or possibly brain dead after a botched emergency cardiac surgery. The claims echo reports earlier in the week which speculated Kim was in a compromised health state following an April 12 medical procedure. The speculation came after North Korea observers noticed Kim was not seen during the April 15 birthday celebrations for his grandfather, the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

South Korean and U.S. officials have cast doubt on the initial claims regarding Kim’s health since the speculation began. Kang Min Seok, a spokesman for President Moon Jae In told the South Korean Yonhap News Agency that the South Korean government has seen no unusual signs out of North Korea.

“There is nothing we can confirm with regard to Chairman Kim’s alleged health problem” Kang said.

Another unnamed source for Yonhap stated further that rumors regarding Kim’s health were simply “not true.”

Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. had seen no intelligence reports to support the rumors about Kim.

“I assume Kim Jong Un is still in full control of the Korean nuclear force and the Korean military forces,” Hyten said.

According to the North Korea observation publication 38North, commercial satellite imagery has detected a train probably belonging to Kim was parked near his compound in Wonsan, North Korea from Tuesday through Thursday.

While the train’s position is not definitive proof of Kim’s whereabouts, it does lend a little bit of credence to claims Kim is still alive and may have travelled to the compound days after speculation about his health began. But perhaps the train’s movement is meant to deceive. Again – it’s North Korea – it’s hard to know what to believe.

U.S. surveillance planes have increasingly been spotted flying close to the demilitarized zone separating North Korea and South Korea. An increase in surveillance flights may be part of an effort to detect any signs of Kim’s movements, though the flights might also be part of an overall effort to detect military activity, such as new missile tests.