North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un visits a unit of the Korean People's Army in an undisclosed location in this undated recent picture released by the country's official news service in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
Before reading this, consider the source, and the subject. The source is the Chinese twitter-like micro blog service Weibo, being cited by the U.S. website Gawker, and the subject is a dictator from notoriously secretive North Korea who has hardly ever been seen outside his country and about whom very little is known.
According to the Gawker report, Weibo has "exploded" with rumors that newly anointed head of state Kim Jong Un was assassinated at the North Korean embassy in Beijing:
"Here's one version of the rumor, cleaned up from the crappy Google translation:
According to reliable sources, North Korean leader [Kim Jong-Un was killed] in Beijing in February 10 2012, at 2 o'clock and 45 minutes. Unknown persons broke into his residence shot and were subsequently shot and killed by the bodyguard."
Kim — believed to be 26 or 27 — formally succeeded his father Kim Jong-Il in late 2011 as the leader of the hermit-like totalitarian state. The succession — and whether the young Kim has the wherewithall to maintain power over the military and potential political rivals — has been the source of intense speculation.
Beijing is one of the few formal allies of Pyongyang, a relationship arising from their communist roots. The Chinese capital is the primary "listening post" for those seeking information on North Korea because information sometimes leaks out of China-North Korea discussions.
The genesis of the assassination rumor, according to Gawker, may have been a large number of vehicles parked at the North Korean embassy in Beijing.
But it quotes ChinaSMACK staff writer Joe Xu who says this is just more of the same: "Rumors like this pop up every other week," he writes on Twitter.
And a senior U.S. official asked about the reports told NBC News that the information runs toward "the false end of the spectrum."
Then again, China is frequently also the source of credible information on North Korea — with news from refugees who have made their way into the country, from Chinese who do business there, and from people who have sighted the private train of the Kim family passing through the countryside.
Msnbc.com will be following the story, however it unfolds.
NBC News Senior Investigative Producer Robert Windrem contributed to this report.
More from msnbc.com and NBC News:
- What gives? Another American in Libya no-fly limbo
- Report: Saudi Arabia to buy nukes if Iran tests A-bomb
- Zen monk fights radiation in Japan
- Himalayan ice melt estimates get a major downsizing