Just how badly did Kim Jong-un want to kill his older half-brother? So badly, Malaysia police now say, that he was willing to kill a whole lot more people in a busy international airport to get it done. Authorities now have to decontaminate their main airport in Kuala Lampur after the toxicology on Kim Jong-nam’s body indicated that assassins used the deadly — and generally banned — nerve agent VX to kill him nearly two weeks ago:
The banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler’s outcast half brother who was attacked by two women who rubbed the substance on his face at the airport in Malaysia’s capital last week, police said Friday.
Authorities were checking the Kuala Lumpur airport for traces of the toxin, 11 days after the attack. But news that a powerful nerve agent was used to kill someone in a crowded airport raised serious questions about public safety.
Questions? Well, that’s one way of putting it. Another way is that a whole lot of people could have been killed, and still could be poisoned:
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.
It’s one of the deadliest poisons known to man, if not the deadliest. It is considered a weapon of mass destruction, and its manufacture is outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention — a treaty that North Korea has never signed. Pyongyang insists it has no chemical weapons, but this pretty clearly shows they do. Estimates of their stockpiles run into the thousands of tons, including VX, and it didn’t take much to pull off this assassination. Seoul believes the rest of it might be intended to put in missiles to rain down on their heads if the war starts up again.
So how did the assassins escape its ill effects? According to the police chief, one of them didn’t; she began vomiting at some point, either in custody or before her capture. VX has an antidote too, an injectable that US troops carry on the battlefield when the threat of chemical warfare exists, and it’s possible that the two assassins took the antidote at the same time they put the agent on their hands or immediately afterward.
The Guardian spoke with an expert on chemical warfare who suggested another possibility:
Raymond Zilinskas, who directs the chemical and biological nonproliferation programme at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said it seemed unlikely that VX was applied directly to Kim.
“Even if they [the suspected attackers] were wearing gloves, the fumes would have killed them,” he said. He suggested the suspects might have used a “binary concoction”, smearing two non-fatal elements of VX which mixed on the victim’s face.
Another question raised by this incident is what to do next with the Kim regime. The UN Security Council will no doubt pass another resolution with more sanctions, but that clearly hasn’t kept the dynastic regime from progressing even further into lunacy. China cut off its coal imports from North Korea after the assassination itself, but that’s not going to be sufficient after seeing how reckless and dangerous the method of assassination turned out to be.
Yesterday, Donald Trump remarked that China has to do more to rein in North Korea. After this news, perhaps even Beijing might agree. Who knows who’ll get the Pyongyang Facewash next?