Kim Jong-nam killing: VX nerve agent ‘found on his face’

Media captionCCTV footage appears to show the moment Kim Jong-nam is attacked

Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, was killed by a highly toxic nerve agent, says Malaysia.

Mr Kim died last week after two women wiped a substance over his face in check-in hall of Kuala Lumpur airport.

Malaysian toxicology reports have identified the chemical as “VX nerve agent”, classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.

Malaysia has not blamed the North Korean state for the death, but says North Koreans were clearly behind it.

Mr Kim died on the way to hospital shortly after the 13 February airport encounter. His body remains in a hospital mortuary, amid a diplomatic dispute over who should claim it.

North Korea responded furiously to Malaysia’s insistence on conducting a post-mortem examination and has accused Malaysia of having “sinister” purposes.


VX nerve agent: What to know

  • A clear, amber-coloured, oily liquid which is tasteless and odourless.
  • The most toxic of the known chemical warfare agents, a drop of VX on your skin can be fatal. It can kill a person within minutes.
  • Works by penetrating the skin and disrupting the transmission of nerve impulses.
  • It can be disseminated in a spray or vapour, or used to contaminate water, food, and agricultural products.
  • VX can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, or eye contact.
  • Clothing can carry VX for about 30 minutes after contact with the vapour, which can expose other people.
  • Exposure to a low or moderate dose of VX by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption can cause symptoms like a runny nose, eye pain, blurred vision, drooling and excessive sweating, chest tightness, rapid breathing, increased urination, confusion, drowsiness, weakness, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Its official chemical name is S-2 Diisoprophylaminoethyl methylphosphonothiolate and it is banned by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Sources: CDC, The Wednesday Report


Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the presence of the nerve agent was detected in swabs taken from Mr Kim’s eyes and face by the Chemistry Department of Malaysia.

He said other exhibits were still under analysis.

Bruce Bennett, a weapons expert at the research institute the Rand Corporation, told the BBC it would have taken only a tiny amount of the substance to kill Mr Kim.

The two women seen in CCTV footage approaching Mr Kim and wiping his face could have applied a miniscule amount of nerve agent to his skin, said Mr Bennett, which would have begun affecting his nervous system immediately, causing first shaking and then death within minutes.

The two women, who Malaysia has said were well-trained, are in custody.

Several North Koreans are also wanted in connection with his death, including a senior official at the North’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur as well as an employee of the state airline, Air Koryo.

Four other North Koreans named earlier in the case are thought to have left Malaysia already, while a fifth North Korean has been detained.

Image copyright
AP

Image caption

North Korea has not identified the man who died as Kim Jong-nam, only as a North Korean citizen

Mr Kim was once seen as a possible successor to his father, Kim Jong-il, but was bypassed in favour of his younger half-brother, Kim Jong-un, and spent many years living abroad.

He had been travelling on a passport under the name Kim Chol. North Korea has yet to confirmed that the deceased was actually Kim Jong-nam.

On what seemed to be the first reference to the case in the North’s state media, Pyongyang said on Thursday only that Malaysia was responsible for the death of one of its citizens.

It also accused Malaysia of trying to politicise the return of his body and called “absurd” Malaysia’s request for DNA samples for official confirmation of his identity.


Who are the suspects?

Detained

Image copyright
REX/Shutterstock

Image caption

A woman seen in CCTV footage is thought to be Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong

  • Doan Thi Huong, 28, Vietnamese, one of two women suspected of wiping toxins on Mr Kim’s face. She is thought to be the woman seen in CCTV footage wearing a white top emblazoned with the letters “LOL”.
  • Siti Aisyah, 25, Indonesian, the other female suspect. Indonesian authorities say she claims she thought she was taking part in a TV prank.
  • Ri Jong Chol, 47, a North Korean.
  • Muhammad Farid Jalaluddin, the Malaysian boyfriend of Siti Aisyah.

Sought for questioning

Image copyright
AFP

  • Hyon Kwang Song, 44, second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Believed to still be in Malaysia.
  • Kim Uk Il, 37, staff member of North Korea’s state airline Air Koryo. Believed to still be in Malaysia.
  • Ri Ju U, 30, a North Korean also known as “James”. Believed to still be in Malaysia.
  • Ri Ji Hyon, 33, a North Korean. Believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
  • Hong Song Hac, 34, a North Korean. Believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
  • O Jong Gil, 55, a North Korean. Believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
  • Ri Jae Nam, 57, a North Korean. Believed to have fled to Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-nam killing: VX nerve agent ‘found on his face’}

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