The assassination of Kim Jong Nam, half brother of Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, continues to amaze and entertain aficionados of bad Hollywood murder mysteries. The incident occurred at the Malaysian International Airport on Tuesday, February 13, when Kim, who was boarding a flight for Macau, told authorities that he felt someone “grabbed or held his face from behind.” It turns out that he had been exposed to VX nerve toxin; he died shortly after complaining of feeling ill.
Here’s a remarkable CCTV video of the assassination.
The use of a WMD to kill off one person is bizarre enough. But the story being told by Malaysian authorities is still unfolding and gets more bizarre with every turn.
Investigators made two arrests within hours of Km’s death: Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman, was arrested at the airport and 26-year-old Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin was picked up in the city of Ampang. The interrogation of Jalaluddin led to the arrests of four other suspects, including his girlfriend, Siti Aishah, an Indonesian woman who had a strange tale to tell.
Huong was immortalized in security footage from the airport when she was spotted wearing an unusual T-shirt:
Aishah was paid about $90 to either spray or rub Kim’s face with the VX. She originally told authorities that she thought she was participating in a TV prank show. Later, she admitted that men who “looked like Japanese or Koreans” asked her to do it. She said she thought the substance was “baby oil.”
Malaysian authorities swept the airport for traces of VX but came up empty.
Authorities are seeking at least four other suspects — all North Korean — who fled the country on the day that Kim was killed.
International experts are flabbergasted that, if North Korea is behind the assassination, they would use an incredibly dangerous and highly toxic agent like VX. Just a drop will kill you.
Vestergaard pointed out the obvious risk posed by an assassin carrying a cloth with VX through an airport.
“We watched her walk across one of the terminals. She would have had to have carried this cloth with her. Even if she had gloves on, it would have dispersed somehow, somewhere,” she said. “Onto her, maybe onto someone else if she would have brushed against someone. If something would have dropped, onto a shoe, onto a suitcase.” Wherever she doused the cloth might be contaminated, Vestergaard added. “Even to open the vial and carry a vial” risks contaminating the environment.
The toxin “can remain on material, equipment and terrain for long periods,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons indicates on its website. “All nerve agents in pure state are colourless liquids. Their volatility varies widely. The consistency of VX may be likened to an involatile oil and is therefore classified as belonging to the group of persistent CW agents.” A suitcase sitting on the tarmac in the rain could have a drop of VX washed off, for example, but in other places it could linger for some time.
It works quickly. “Its effect is mainly through direct contact with the skin,” the OPCW indicates. Poisoning using a gas leads to a more rapid effect than through contact with the skin, because in the latter case it can take 20 to 30 minutes for the agent to reach deeper blood vessels. When it does, however, the effect is to essentially paralyze respiratory functions — the victim suffocates. Because persistent agents don’t evaporate, it requires a smaller amount to kill. In the case of VX, the OPCW says, the amount of the agent required to have a fatal effect in 50 percent of victims is 10 milligrams.
An amount the size of three snowflakes. One-ninth of a grain of sand.
“I think the investigation now — if this is confirmed to be nerve agent — is going to be massive because it is in an airport,” Vestergaard said. “You’re going to have to track those people that were in that area. What planes were being checked in. You have to have a hotline, if anyone gets sick. All those people will have to be tested.”
It’s not enough to say that North Korea was being incredibly irresponsible in using WMD to assassinate a relative of the dictator. You have to wonder if there isn’t another motive for the North Koreans to use VX. What that might be — your guess is as good as mine. But if it was a message they were sending, you can bet that it has been heard loud and clear.