KUALA LUMPUR – In a brief statement today, Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s National police chief, said poison used to kill Kim Jong-nam was the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent, under the Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1997 and 2005, to which North Korea is not a party.
Samples were taken from Mr. Kim’s skin and eyes. The poison was identified in a preliminary analysis by the Center for Chemical Weapons Analysis of the Chemistry Department of Malaysia, Mr. Khalid said.
VX nerve agent can be delivered in two compounds that are mixed at the last moment to create a lethal dose. The police say that two women approached Mr. Kim at the airport with the poison on their hands and rubbed it on his face one after the other.
Khalid said police were still investigating how the lethal nerve agent entered Malaysia.
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.
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.”
The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention bans the use and stockpiling of chemical weapons, and North Korea is among the world’s largest possessors of such weapons. In 2014, the South Korean Defense Ministry said the North had stockpiled 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and had a capacity to produce a variety of biological weapons. (The North has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006.)
VX is part of a family of nerve agents created decades ago during research into pesticides. It is tasteless and odorless and kills by causing uncontrollable muscle contractions, which eventually stop the victim from breathing. A dose of about 10 milligrams is enough to kill by skin contact, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
Several world powers, including the United States and the former Soviet Union, once had large stockpiles of the nerve agent. American stores of VX were destroyed under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, with incineration completed in 2012.