North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s half brother was assassinated with a lethal nerve agent manufactured for chemical warfare, Malaysian police said on Friday. Releasing a preliminary toxicology report on Kim Jong Nam’s murder at a Kuala Lumpur airport, police said the poison used by the assassins was the odourless, tasteless and highly toxic nerve agent VX. Traces of VX were detected on swabs taken from the dead man’s face and eyes.
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Leaked CCTV footage from the brazen attack on February 13 shows the portly Kim being approached by two women who appear to put something in his face. Moments later he is seen asking for help from airport staff, who direct him to a clinic. Malaysian police said he suffered a seizure and died before he reached hospital.
An autopsy ruled out heart failure, leading investigators to focus on the theory that a toxin was applied to his face, in what South Korea has insisted was a targeted assassination. Malaysian detectives are holding three people — women from Indonesia and Vietnam, and a North Korean man — but want to speak to seven others.
North Korea’s state media broke it silence on the murder after 10 days Thursday, launching a ferocious assault on Malaysia for “immoral” handling of the case and for playing politics with the corpse. The North’s official KCNA news agency said Malaysia bore prime responsibility for the death, and accused it of conspiring with South Korea.
It also condemned the Malaysian authorities for not releasing the corpse “under the absurd pretext” that it needs a DNA sample from the dead man’s family.
North Korea has never acknowledged the victim as the estranged brother of leader Kim Jong-Un and the lengthy KCNA dispatch avoided any reference to the dead man’s identity, calling him only “a citizen” of North Korea “bearing a diplomatic passport”.
The only known use 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. “It is possible that any visible VX liquid contact on the skin, unless washed off immediately, would be lethal,” the CDC said on its website.
All nerve agents cause their toxic effects by preventing the proper operation of an enzyme that acts as the body’s “off switch” for glands and muscles.
Without that switch, the glands and muscles are constantly being stimulated, and eventually tire and become unable to sustain breathing.