24 February 2017

Malaysia: VX nerve agent killed outcast North Korean scion

Malaysian Police stand outside North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. North Korea denied Thursday that its agents masterminded the assassination of the half brother of leader Kim Jong Un, saying a Malaysian investigation into the death of one of its nationals is full of "holes and contradictions."
The poison used to kill the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader at a crowded air terminal in Malaysia last week was the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent, police said Friday. Eleven days after the deadly toxin was used, they said they would eliminate any possible remaining trace of it from the airport and other locations.
The revelation that VX nerve agent, deadly even in minute amounts, was used in the Feb. 13 attack boosted speculation that Pyongyang dispatched a hit squad to kill Kim Jong Nam, the outcast older sibling of North Korea's ruler.

The case also raised questions about public safety, although there was no sign that any bystanders had fallen ill. Police said one of the alleged attackers had been vomiting in the hours after the attack, but there were no reports that anyone else had been sickened.
Police had gone more than a week saying the airport was safe, even though it had not been decontaminated after a mysterious and deadly poisoning. After the announcement that VX was to blame, The Associated Press asked Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar in a text message whether decontamination would take place. He responded, "We are doing it now."
He later said police were arranging for the atomic energy agency to decontaminate the airport and "sweep all locations which we knew that the suspects went to."
Asked if people should avoid the airport because of fears of contamination, Khalid said, "No. No. No. But I don't know. I am not the expert."
A member of the UMNO (United Malays National Organization) Youth holds a placard as they gather to protest against the killing of Kim Jong Nam outside North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. North Korea denied Thursday that its agents masterminded the assassination of the half brother of leader Kim Jong Un, saying a Malaysian investigation into the death of one of its nationals is full of "holes and contradictions."
Director-General Hamrah Mohamad Ali of the Atomic Energy Licensing Board later told The Associated Press in a text message that although his office did receive a police request for technical assistance, VX doesn't come under his jurisdiction because it's not radioactive. Police did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
VX nerve agent was detected on Kim's eyes and face, Khalid said earlier in a written statement, citing a preliminary report from the country's Center for Chemical Weapons Analysis.
According to Malaysian investigators, two female suspects coated their hands with the liquid toxin and wiped it on Kim's face as he waited for a flight home to Macau, where he lived with his family.
Kim sought help from airport staff but he fell into convulsions and died on the way to the hospital within two hours of the attack, police said.
Malaysian police say the women — one Vietnamese, one Indonesian — washed their hands immediately after the attack as they'd been trained to do, and had practiced the attack in Kuala Lumpur shopping malls.
A members of the UMNO (United Malays National Organization) Youth holds a placard as they gather to protest against the killing of Kim Jong Nam outside North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. North Korea denied Thursday that its agents masterminded the assassination of the half brother of leader Kim Jong Un, saying a Malaysian investigation into the death of one of its nationals is full of "holes and contradictions."
Malaysian police had initially 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 but said she is no longer under treatment.
Khalid said police were still investigating how the lethal nerve agent entered Malaysia.
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.
Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a leading toxicologist who heads the forensic medicine division at the University of Florida, said even a tiny amount of VX nerve agent can be fatal. An antidote can be administered by injection. U.S. medics and military personnel carried kits with them on the battlefield during the Iraq war in case they were exposed to the chemical weapon.
In this Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, file photo, North Korea's Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol speaks to the media outside the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Faced with the killing of its leader’s half brother in what appears to have all the trappings of a politically motivated hit, North Korea is turning up the volume on a familiar defense: Flatly deny the allegations, viciously attack the accusers.
"It's a very toxic nerve agent. Very, very toxic," he said. "I'm intrigued that these two alleged assassins suffered no ill effect from exposure to VX. It is possible that both of these women were given the antidote."
He said symptoms from VX would generally occur within seconds or minutes and could last for hours starting with confusion, possible drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, runny nose and watery eyes. Prior to death, a victim would likely have convulsions, seizures, loss of consciousness and paralysis.
The toxin was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory, and is banned under an international treaty. But North Korea never signed that treaty, and has spent decades developing a complex chemical weapons program that has long worried the international community.
Outside experts believe North Korea has the capacity to produce up to 4,500 metric tons of chemical weapons a year, and could raise that to 12,000 tons during a crisis. Its current inventory has been estimated at 2,500 to 5,000 tons.
It is suspected of being particularly focused on mustard, phosgene, sarin and V-type chemical agents — substances including VX that are designed to poison through contact and remain lethal for long periods of time. The North's development of such agents has been of special concern because of fears it might try to put them in artillery shells for an attack on South Korea's capital, potentially threatening the lives of millions.
Police officers talk to people at the main gate of the forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. North Korea denied Thursday that its agents masterminded the assassination of the half brother of leader Kim Jong Un, saying a Malaysian investigation into the death of one of its nationals is full of "holes and contradictions."
Joseph Bermudez, a well-known North Korea analyst, wrote an article for the respected 38 North website in 2013 that said the North is capable of not only employing "significant quantities and varieties of chemical weapons" across the Korean Peninsula but also using those weapons worldwide "using unconventional methods of delivery."
He also said there is a "growing body of evidence" indicating the North has shared chemical weapons capabilities with Syria, Iran and others.
In addition to the suspected attackers, Malaysia has arrested a North Korean man said to be an information technology worker at a Malaysian herbal supplements company and is seeking at least seven people, including the second secretary of North Korea's embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Kim Jong Nam's very public assassination has unleashed a diplomatic crisis. North Korea has denounced Malaysia's investigation as full of "holes and contradictions" and manipulated by Pyongyang's enemies.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman pointedly defended his country's work on Friday, saying at a news conference, "The entire world knows that the investigation has been objective, impartial and also transparent."
He said the North Korean ambassador "continues to be delusional and spew lies and accusations" about the Malaysian government, and noted that Pyongyang's top diplomat in Kuala Lumpur "must realize that he must enjoy the confidence of the government of Malaysia." 
(AP)   
In this May 4, 2001, file photo, a man believed to be Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, looks at a battery of photographers as he exits a police van to board a plane to Beijing at Narita international airport in Narita, northeast of Tokyo. Police in Malaysia say the half brother of North Korea's leader who was killed in a Kuala Lumpur airport more than a week ago had a nerve agent on his eye and his face. A statement Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 from the inspector general of police said that a preliminary analysis from the Chemistry Department of Malaysia identified the agent at "VX NERVE AGENT."
In this May 4, 2001, file photo, a man believed to be Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, looks at a battery of photographers as he exits a police van to board a plane to Beijing at Narita international airport in Narita, northeast of Tokyo. Police in Malaysia say the half brother of North Korea's leader who was killed in a Kuala Lumpur airport more than a week ago had a nerve agent on his eye and his face. A statement Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 from the inspector general of police said that a preliminary analysis from the Chemistry Department of Malaysia identified the agent at "VX NERVE AGENT."                  
A police officer checks his phone inside the forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
A police officer checks his phone inside the forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.           
Police officers guard the main gate of forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
Police officers guard the main gate of forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.                  
Police officers guard the main gate of forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
Police officers guard the main gate of forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.                   
Journalists gather outside North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
Journalists gather outside North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.                      
A journalist films through the gate of North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
A journalist films through the gate of North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.                   
North Korean Embassy counselor Kim Yu Song, second right, reads out a press release to reporters at the gate of the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday. North Korea has denounced Malaysia's investigation as full of "holes and contradictions" and accused the authorities here of being in cahoots with Pyongyang's enemies.
North Korean Embassy counselor Kim Yu Song, second right, reads out a press release to reporters at the gate of the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday. North Korea has denounced Malaysia's investigation as full of "holes and contradictions" and accused the authorities here of being in cahoots with Pyongyang's enemies.              
People move through the airport hall at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. According to police Friday, forensics has stated that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport. The announcement raised serious questions about public safety in a building that authorities went 11 days without decontaminating.
People move through the airport hall at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. According to police Friday, forensics has stated that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport. The announcement raised serious questions about public safety in a building that authorities went 11 days without decontaminating.              
A police officer talk to a woman at the main gate of the forensic department at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Police announced forensic tests showed that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
A police officer talk to a woman at the main gate of the forensic department at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Police announced forensic tests showed that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.                 
A heavy downpour soaks the street outside of the forensic department at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Police announced forensic tests showed that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
A heavy downpour soaks the street outside of the forensic department at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Police announced forensic tests showed that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.                       
A police officer close the main gate of the forensic department at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Police announced forensic tests showed that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.
A police officer close the main gate of the forensic department at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Police announced forensic tests showed that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, police said Friday.                  
North Korean Embassy counselor Kim Yu Song, left, talks with a translator after reading out a press release to reporters at the gate of the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Malaysia's police chief said Thursday investigators want to question a North Korean embassy official about the death of the exiled half brother of Pyongyang's leader, saying he should cooperate if he has nothing to hide despite having diplomatic immunity.
North Korean Embassy counselor Kim Yu Song, left, talks with a translator after reading out a press release to reporters at the gate of the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. Malaysia's police chief said Thursday investigators want to question a North Korean embassy official about the death of the exiled half brother of Pyongyang's leader, saying he should cooperate if he has nothing to hide despite having diplomatic immunity.

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