2 HANDS, 2 CHEM­I­CALS =VX

THE at­tack on Kim Jong-nam is likely to have in­volved the use of two chem­i­cals, one after an­other. Both sub­stances com­bined to be­come the deadly VX nerve agent. In­ves­ti­ga­tors may have found one of the chem­i­cals on the vic­tim.

New Straits Times - - Front Page - RE­PORT BY FAR­RAH NAZ KARIM AND ALIZA SHAH

ANY doubts cast by North Korea on the find­ings of Malaysian in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Kim Jong-nam was killed by the nerve agent VX can now be quashed.

While there is logic be­hind Py­ongyang’s ar­gu­ment that his two as­sailants would have died had they held the chem­i­cal with their bare hands for a con­sid­er­able time while wait­ing to pounce on Jong-nam at klia2 on Feb 13, what the New Straits Times’

Spe­cial Probes Team un­cov­ered con­vinc­ingly kills this sup­po­si­tion.

VX was in­deed the chem­i­cal that sapped Jong­nam’s life, but the team learnt that in­ves­ti­ga­tors prob­ing this high-pro­file mur­der are now fo­cused on es­tab­lish­ing that the deadly sub­stance was de­liv­ered in a bi­nary chem­i­cal at­tack.

This means that the at­tack on Jong-nam us­ing the lethal chem­i­cal in­volved a mix of two con­coc­tions which, on their own, are not po­tent, but when mixed to­gether, be­comes the deadly VX.

Bi­nary VX is re­ferred to as VX2. It is cre­ated by mix­ing O-(2-di­iso­propy­laminoethyl) O’-ethyl methylphos­pho­nite (re­ferred to as Agent QL) with el­e­men­tal sul­fur (Agent NE).

The Spe­cial Probes Team learnt that in­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing on the case may have found ev­i­dence on at least one item Jong­nam had on him dur­ing the at­tack sug­gest­ing the pres­ence of the QL pre­cur­sor agent.

It has not been es­tab­lished if they had also found traces of sul­fur that would have been com­bined and re­acted with QL to form the VX nerve agent.

In a re­cent me­dia in­ter­view, Cal­i­for­nia-based chem­i­cal weapons ex­pert Ray­mond A. Zilin­skas, when asked why those who ad­min­is­tered VX to Jong­nam were not af­fected by it, said what was used could not pos­si­bly be VX in its pure form, as there would be no doubt that the as­sas­sins them­selves would have been killed (in the at­tack).

“What we have is what is called a bi­nary sys­tem... where the as­sas­sins had two types of chem­i­cals. Th­ese chem­i­cals, on their own, are not that toxic, but when you put them to­gether, the chem­i­cal re­ac­tion ends up as VX. I think that’s what hap­pened here.” A source close to the on­go­ing probe sug­gested that one of Jong-nam’s two as­sailants could have the QL reagent, and the other, “prob­a­bly the sul­fur”. Both chem­i­cals would have had to be de­liv­ered “with pre­ci­sion” to kill Jong-nam but with­out af­fect­ing oth­ers at the crowded air­port.

“Only 10ml of the liq­uid reagent (which is non-toxic) was needed, and it could be car­ried un­de­tected any­where, even through an air­port scan­ner.

“Had it not been for the closed­cir­cuit tele­vi­sion footage, his death would have prob­a­bly been at­trib­uted to a heart at­tack.”

The NST also learnt that at least two in­di­vid­u­als who had at­tended to Jong-nam, the es­tranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as he des­per­ately sought help after the at­tack no­ticed a foul smell em­a­nat­ing from him.

“That would be ex­plained by the sul­fate as it has a rot­ten egg odour. It can also in­duce vom­it­ing,” the source said, adding it had also been es­tab­lished that, while one of the as­sailants had vom­ited shortly after the at­tack, both showed no traces of be­ing poi­soned by VX.

VX, in its pure form, is colour­less and odour­less.

Po­lice had said that the duo had washed their hands at the air­port after the at­tack be­fore mak­ing their es­cape. Ex­perts say im­me­di­ate coun­ter­mea­sures against VX poi­son­ing in­clude wash­ing the chem­i­cal off with bleach. Oth­ers in­clude ad­min­is­trat­ing the an­ti­dotes at­ropine and prali­doxime (2-PAM), as well an in­jected seda­tive/antiepilep­tic, such as di­azepam.

It was also re­ported that one of the North Korean sus­pects wanted by the po­lice was seen pour­ing some­thing on one of the as­sailants’ hands shortly be­fore the at­tack.

“The man would have put him­self at risk, too, if he had been han­dling pure VX,” the source said, adding that VX af­fects the body through in­hala­tion and skin con­tact if not washed off im­me­di­ately.

A still im­age from closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion footage show­ing a fe­male as­sailant wip­ing some­thing on Kim Jong-nam at klia2 on Feb 13.

Se­cu­rity staff ac­com­pa­ny­ing Kim Jong-nam to the clinic at klia2 on Feb 13.

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