The poison that killed Kim Jong-nam, the older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, last week was VX nerve agent, according to Malaysian authorities. The substance is banned under the U.N.’s Chemical Weapons Convention, and it’s considered a weapon of mass destruction.
North Korea never signed the agreement and according to The Wall Street Journal it’s believed to possess several thousand metric tons of chemical weapons.
Exposure to even 10 milligrams of the nerve agent can be deadly, and it’s unclear how Kim’s attackers administered the poison without seriously harming anyone else. Malaysian investigators said two female suspects coated their hand with the liquid and rubbed it on Kim’s face at the Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13. The New York Times notes that it’s possible to prepare the poison as two separate compounds and mix them together at the last minute.
Initial reports suggested the two women wiped a cloth across Kim’s face, but this week Malaysia’s police chief said they used their bare hands. A senior police official told the Journal that at least one of the women was actually wearing gloves. One of the women vomited after the attack, but no one else was sickened.
“It’s a very toxic nerve agent. Very, very toxic,” Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a toxicologist at the University of Florida, told the AP. “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.”
Kim sought medical attention at the airport, but he fell into convulsions and died at the hospital within two hours.
In addition to the two women, police arrested a North Korean man believed to be an IT worker at a Malaysian herbal supplements company. Malaysian police are looking for seven more North Korean suspects.
The North Korean government claims the Malaysian investigation is full of “holes and contradictions,” buy obviously they’re believed to be behind the attack. Kim Jong-nam had publicly criticized his younger brother, and he was seen as a threat to Kim Jong-un’s rule. He’s not the first of the dictator’s relatives to wind up dead.