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VX Nerve agent used to kill N. Korean leader's half-brother, police say

Toshifumi Kitamura, Ed Jones / AFP | Kim Jong-Nam (L) and his half-brother, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

VX nerve agent, a chemical on a U.N. list of weapons of mass destruction, was used to kill the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in last week's bizarre murder in a busy Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysian police said on Friday.

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Kim Jong Nam died on Feb. 13 after being assaulted by two women who wiped the toxic chemical on his face as he prepared to board a flight to Macau at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Police arrested the two women - one Vietnamese and the other Indonesian - and a North Korean man last week. They are also seeking seven other North Koreans wanted in connection with the case, including a diplomat at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

South Korean and U.S. officials have said they believe North Korean agents assassinated Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in the Chinese territory of Macau under Beijing's protection.

Police said swabs taken from the eye and the face of a North Korean national by the chemistry department of Malaysia revealed the presence of VX nerve agent, or S-2 Diisoprophylaminoethyl methylphosphonothiolate.

"Other exhibits are under analysis," Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in the statement that cited findings from a preliminary report from the government's chemical weapons analysis unit.

Police are investigating whether the chemical, believed to be the most toxic nerve agent in the world, was brought into Malaysia or made in the country, he told reporters.

Khalid has said earlier that the two women who were paid to carry out the assault had washed their hands before fleeing from the airport.

Airport camera footage released on Monday by Japanese broadcaster Fuji TV shows the moment they assaulted Kim Jong Nam, who is later seen asking airport officials for medical help. He died on the way to hospital.

VX is tasteless and odourless, and is outlawed under the Chemical Weapons Convention, except for "research, medical or pharmaceutical purposes".

It can be manufactured as a liquid, cream or aerosol. Absorbed in large doses, it is fatal after 15 minutes, according to the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, making it the most toxic known nerve agent in the world.

In 2015, traces of sarin and VX nerve agent were found at a military research site in Syria that had not been declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog.

Suspects Wanted

Malaysian authorities on Thursday requested Interpol to put an alert out to apprehend four North Korean suspects who are believed to have fled Malaysia on the day of the attack.

They also want to question the second secretary at the North Korean embassy, though he has diplomatic immunity, and are seeking two other North Koreans, including an employee at the state-owned airline Air Koryo, who are still believed to be in Malaysia.

The investigation has resulted in fraught relations between two countries that had hitherto maintained friendly ties.

North Korea has said the Southeast Asian nation should be held responsible for the killing of one of its citizens, though it has not acknowledged that the victim is the half brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Malaysia has recalled its ambassador from Pyongyang for consultations.

(REUTERS)

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