The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler’s outcast half brother who was attacked by two women who rubbed the substance on his face at the airport in Malaysia’s capital last week, police said on Feb. 24.
Authorities were checking the Kuala Lumpur airport for traces of the toxin, 11 days after the attack. But news that a powerful nerve agent was used to kill someone in a crowded airport raised serious questions about public safety.
Police said one of the alleged attackers had been vomiting after the Feb. 13 attack, but there were no reports that anyone else had been sickened.
VX nerve agent, deadly even in minute amounts, was detected on Kim’s eyes and face, Malaysia’s inspector general of police said in a written statement, citing a preliminary analysis from the country’s Chemistry Department.
“Our preliminary finding of the chemical that caused the death of Kim Chol was VX nerve,” said Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar. Kim Chol is the name on the passport found on the victim, but a Malaysian official previously confirmed he is North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s older half brother.
Malaysian police had previously said no one besides Kim Jong Nam had been sickened. But Khalid told reporters that one of the two women accused of wiping the toxin on Kim’s face became sick later and suffered from vomiting. He declined to say which woman had been sick, the Indonesian woman or the Vietnamese woman in custody.
Khalid said police were still investigating how the lethal agent entered Malaysia.
Police previously said the airport had not been decontaminated but that passengers should be confident it was safe. Asked Friday in a text message whether it had still not been decontaminated, Khalid said, “We are doing it now.”
Details were not immediately clear.
VX nerve agent has the consistency of motor oil and can take days or even weeks to evaporate. It could have contaminated anywhere Kim was afterward, including medical facilities and the ambulance he was transported in, experts say.
The death of Kim Jong Nam, whose daylight assassination in a crowded airport terminal seems straight out of a spy novel, has unleashed a diplomatic crisis, especially as speculation grows that Pyongyang dispatched a hit squad to Malaysia to kill the exiled older sibling of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea has denounced Malaysia’s investigation as full of “holes and contradictions” and manipulated by Pyongyang’s enemies.
According to Malaysian investigators, the two female suspects coated their hands with the liquid toxin and wiped it on Kim’s face on Feb. 13 as he waited for a flight home to Macau, where he lived with his family.