Malaysia orders airport check for traces of nerve agent used to kill Kim Jong Nam

Malaysia Royal Police officer cordoning off an area during a police re-enactment at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2), in Sepang, Malaysia, on Feb 17, 2017.
Malaysia Royal Police officer cordoning off an area during a police re-enactment at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2), in Sepang, Malaysia, on Feb 17, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

Outcry over use of highly toxic VX to kill Kim Jong Nam at airport; KL to undertake review of ties with North Korea

Malaysia has ordered government experts to sweep the airport for any traces of the highly toxic nerve agent VX that killed Mr Kim Jong Nam last week.

Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement yesterday the chemical – classified as a weapon of mass destruction – was found on swabs of the victim’s face and eyes.

Just a drop of the toxin – which can last for days on objects it comes into contact with – is enough to kill an adult in minutes, according to experts.

Mr Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, was killed on Feb 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 where he was about to board a flight to Macau.

Two women went up to him and wiped the poison on his face before walking away. Soon after, Mr Kim approached airline staff for help complaining he felt unwell. He died on the way to hospital.

Tan Sri Khalid told reporters one of the two women arrested had fallen ill in custody and had vomited.

On Wednesday, Mr Khalid said the two women – a Vietnamese and an Indonesian – knew they were handling something toxic. Citing airport footage showing one of them walking towards the toilet with her hands held up, he said “she knew very well that it was toxic and she had to wash her hands”.

The nerve agent’s toxicity sparked an outcry. “I am outraged that the criminals used such a dangerous chemical in a public area,” Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse news agency. It “could have caused mass injuries or even death to other people”, he added.

Some observers said it was fortunate no one had been reported to be suffering from any ill effects.

Mr Khalid told reporters yesterday the police were investigating where the nerve agent came from.

“If the amount of the chemical brought in was small, it would be difficult for us to detect,” he said.

South Korea and the United States believe that North Korea, which has large stockpiles of chemical weapons, ordered the killing.

However, according to The Star, police on Wednesday raided a condominium in Kuala Lumpur, wearing hazmat suits and oxygen tanks to protect themselves from hazardous material and left with some chemicals.

 

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The North Korean ambassador Kang Chol has repeatedly accused Malaysia of “grave human rights abuse” and of conspiring with its enemies to subvert the investigation. The ambassador’s belligerence has led to calls for his expulsion.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said yesterday the Foreign Ministry would review ties and present its findings to the Cabinet.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Mr Kang has been informed of the process involved in the probe but “continues to be delusional and spew lies and accusations” against the government.

“He must understand and realise that he needs to enjoy the confidence of the government of Malaysia,” Datuk Seri Anifah warned.

Police have arrested a North Korean man based in Malaysia and are looking for seven others, one of them a senior embassy official.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysia orders airport check for traces of nerve agent'. Print Edition | Subscribe