Police: Sick woman a clue in death
Malaysians say N. Korean killed by banned nerve agent VX
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Sometime in the hours after poisoning the half brother of North Korea’s leader, one of his two attackers began to throw up, Malaysian police said Friday. It was an early indication of the chemical warfare agent VX, identified as the cause of the killing.
The oily poison was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory, experts say, and is banned under international treaties. North Korea, a prime suspect in the killing, never signed that treaty and has spent decades developing a chemical weapons program.
“This is not something you make in a kitchen lab. You’d kill yourself if you did,” said Bruce Bennett, a defense expert with the Rand Corp. think tank who has studied North Korea.
The public poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, which took place amid crowds of travelers in the budget terminal at Kuala Lumpur’s airport, has boosted speculation that North Korea dispatched killers to assassinate its leader’s older brother — who, though not an obvious political threat, may have been seen as a potential rival in the country’s dynastic dictatorship.
While Malaysia hasn’t directly accused the North Korean government of being behind the attack, officials said earlier this week that four North Korean men provided the women with poison. The four fled Malaysia shortly after the killing, police say.
South Korean intelligence officials have accused North Korea of being behind the attack, saying Kim Jong Nam had been on a government hit list for years. North Korea denies any role in the murder and says Malaysia’s investigation is biased and full of holes. But since taking power in late 2011, North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un has executed or purged a number of high-level government officials, including his uncle.
VX is an extremely powerful poison, with an amount no larger than a few grains of salt enough to kill. An odorless chemical, it can be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Then, in anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, it can cause a range of symptoms, from blurred vision to a headache. Enough exposure leads to convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and death.
It has the consistency of motor oil and can take days or weeks to evaporate. It could have contaminated anywhere Kim was after the attack, including medical facilities and the ambulance he was transported in, experts say.
“It’s a very toxic nerve agent. Very, very toxic,” said Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a leading toxicologist who heads the forensic medicine division at the University of Florida. He said an antidote can be administered by injection. U.S. medics and military personnel carried kits with the antidote on the battlefield during the Iraq war in case they chemical were weapon. exposed to the “I’m intrigued that these two alleged assassins suffered no ill effect from exposure to VX,”that bothhe said.of these“It is possible women were given the antidote.” Kim, who was in his mid40s and had lived abroad for years, younger was brother, estranged Kim from Jong his Un. In the airport attack, a series of grainy images taken by security cameras show two women — identified by police as an Indonesian and a Vietnamese — rub something on Kim’s face before swiftly walking away in opposite directions. Malaysian national Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the women had been trained to go straight to washrooms and clean their hands afterward. But he told reporters that one of the women — he declined to say which one — had gotten sick and began throwing up after the attack. The security video shows Kim, who appeared unhurt in the first minutes after the attack, gesturing to his face as he speaks to airport employees and security guards. They escorted him to the airport’s medical clinic. He died soon after, suffering seizures as an ambulance took him to a nearby hospital.
VX was detected on Kim’s eyes and face, Khalid said in a statement, citing a preliminary analysis from the country’s Center of Chemical Weapons Analysis.
“Our preliminary finding of the chemical that caused the death of Kim Chol was VX nerve,” he said. While Khalid used the name Kim Chol — which was on the North Korean diplomatic passport the victim was carrying — Malaysian officials have said it was Kim Jong Nam.
The two accused women are in custody, along with a North Korean man believed to be an information technology worker at a Malaysian herbal supplements company. Police are looking for at least seven other North Koreans, including the second secretary of North Korea’s Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
A police officer talks to a woman Friday at the main gate of the forensic department at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Kim Jong Nam