Malaysian police say Kim Jong-un’s brother was poisoned with a banned chemical weapon

Kim Jong-nam at Tokyo’s Narita Airport in 2001.
Kim Jong-nam at Tokyo’s Narita Airport in 2001.
Image: Reuters/Eriko Sugita
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Malaysian authorities are slowly getting to the bottom of the death of Kim Jong-nam.

According to Reuters, police state that the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was poisoned with a substance known as VX nerve agent, considered to be (pdf, p.15) a “weapon of mass destruction” by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Council on Foreign Relations describes it as “the deadliest nerve agent ever created,” adding:

Known by its U.S. Army code name, it is a clear, colorless liquid with the consistency of motor oil. A fraction of a drop of VX, absorbed through the skin, can fatally disrupt the nervous system. Although a cocktail of drugs can serve as an antidote, VX acts so quickly that victims would have to be injected with the antidote almost immediately to have a chance at survival. VX is the only significant nerve agent created since World War II.

The US Army destroyed the majority of its VX stockpile in 2009, in compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 (pdf, p. 51), an international treaty that promises the eradication of chemical weapons. Experts believe that Saddam Hussein might have deployed the substance against Iraq’s Kurdish population in 1988. The UN also alleges that the Assad regime in Syria has used VX against its opponents.

Kim Jong-nam was killed on Feb. 13 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Surveillance footage shows a woman running up to a man believed to be Kim, grabbing his face, and running away. Police reported at the time that he died from facial exposure to a toxic liquid.

Two women that police detained as suspects—28-year-old Doan Thi Hoang, from Vietnam, and 26-year-old Siti Aisyah, from Indonesia—told police they believed they were on a Candid Camera-esque game show and were told to spray perfume on unsuspecting civilians, and were unaware they were part of an assassination plot. Malaysia’s police chief cast doubt on their statements, however, noting that they washed their hands after handling the substance.

North Korea has denied involvement in Kim’s death and has only acknowledged his identity as a citizen of North Korea, not the half-brother of its ruler. It condemned Malaysia for carrying out an autopsy without its involvement. “This proves that the Malaysian side is going to politicize the transfer of the body in utter disregard of international law and morality and thus attain a sinister purpose,” a state media outlet said in a Feb. 23 statement.