Po­lice: Sick wo­man a clue in death

Malaysians say N. Korean killed by banned nerve agent VX

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - EILEEN NG In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Margie Ma­son, Eric Tal­madge, Martha Men­doza and Tim Sullivan of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

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.

AP/DANIEL CHAN

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

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