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Kim Jong-Nam killed by VX nerve agent: Malaysia police

Malaysian detectives are holding three people — two women from Indonesia and Vietnam, and a North Korean man — believed to have killed Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un © AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb 24 – North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s half brother was assassinated with a lethal nerve agent manufactured for chemical warfare and listed by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction, Malaysian police said Friday.

Releasing a preliminary toxicology report on Kim Jong-Nam’s murder at Kuala Lumpur airport, police revealed the poison used by the assassins was the odourless, tasteless and highly toxic VX.

The news brought condemnation from South Korea, which slammed the use of the nerve agent as a “blatant violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and other international norms”.

Experts in the South said Friday that North Korea has up to 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons stockpiled, including a supply of VX.

Kim died on February 13 after being attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport by two women, who are seen on CCTV footage shoving something in his face.

Nerve agent VX © AFP / John SAEKI

He suffered a seizure and was dead before he reached hospital.

An autopsy revealed traces of VX — a fast-acting toxin that sparks respiratory collapse and heart failure — on the dead man’s face and in his eyes.

Tiny amounts of the poison are enough to kill an adult, whether it is inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

“I am outraged that the criminals used such a dangerous chemical in a public area,” said Malaysia’s Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

It “could have caused mass injuries or even death to other people”.

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One of the two women arrested after the attack fell ill in custody, police said, adding she had been vomiting.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar has previously said the woman who attacked Kim from behind clearly knew she was carrying out a poison attack, dismissing claims that she thought she was taking part in a TV prank.

“The lady was moving away with her hands towards the bathroom,” Khalid said earlier this week.

“She was very aware that it was toxic and that she needed to wash her hands.”

– Diplomatic pouches –

United Malays National Organization (UMNO) Youth activists protest against Pyongyang’s “impermissible attitude and rudeness” and urging the North to “reconsider its aggresive approach” outside the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur © AFP / MANAN VATSYAYANA

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), whose member states include Malaysia and South Korea, said Friday the suspected use of a nerve agent was “deeply disturbing”.

“OPCW stands ready to provide its expertise and technical assistance,” it added in a statement.

Khalid on Friday said experts would sweep the busy airport terminal where the attack took place for traces of the toxin as well as other locations the women had visited.

“We are investigating how (the VX) entered the country,” he told reporters.

However he added that “if the amount of the chemical brought in was small, it would be difficult for us to detect”.

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A leading regional security expert told AFP it would not have been difficult to get VX into Malaysia in a diplomatic pouch, which would not be subject to regular customs checks.

Kim Jong-Nam (grey suit), half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un, speaks to airport authorities at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017 in this screengrab made from CCTV footage obtained by Fuji TV © Fuji TV/AFP/File / Handout

North Korea has previously used the pouches “to smuggle items including contraband and items that would be subjected to scrutiny if regular travel channels were used”, said Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

Detectives are holding three people — women from Indonesia and Vietnam, and a North Korean man — but want to speak to seven others, four of whom are believed to have fled to Pyongyang.

One man wanted for questioning, who is believed to be still in Malaysia, is senior North Korean embassy official Hyon Kwang Song.

Police have acknowledged that his diplomatic status prevents them from questioning him unless he surrenders himself.

– Chemical warfare –

North Korea, which has not acknowledged the dead man’s identity, has vehemently protested at the investigation, saying Malaysia is in cahoots with its enemies.

Its ambassador Kang Chol has said Pyongyang “cannot trust” the Malaysian police to prosecute their probe fairly.

He was told Friday to shut up or face the prospect of being kicked out of the country.

“The ambassador has been informed of the process involved (in the police investigation) but he continues to be delusional and spew lies and accusations against the government of Malaysia,” Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said.

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A senior Malaysian government official said Kang had been shown a “yellow card”, adding: “If he repeats the baseless allegations, he will be expelled.”

The only known function of VX is as a chemical warfare agent and the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes it as the “most potent” of all nerve agents.

VX was used by Japan’s Aum cult in the 1994 murder of an office worker in Osaka, and in the attempted murder of two other people.


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