Forensic tests have identified VX as the killing vector used in Kim Jong-Nam’s assassination.
VX (S-2 Diisoprophylaminoethyl methylphosphonothiolate) is a lethal nerve agent only used in chemical warfare. The compound was first synthetized as a pesticide and briefly commercialized, though it was soon withdrawn due to its extreme toxicity. The toxin was banned in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, though significantly, North Korea is not a signatory of such treaty.
VX is one of the most lethal substances known to man. It is amber-colored, tasteless, and odorless, with the consistency of motor oil. It’s this viscosity that makes VX simultaneously useful as an area denial weapon and dangerous, as it remains on the ground for some time after being deployed.
Once the substance enters the body, VX inhibits the function of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, causing uncontrolled muscle contractions first, followed by paralysis and death by asphyxiation. Unless immediately treated with atropine or other antidote, death occurs within 15-20mins after initial contact.
The assassination of Kim Jong-Nam in the middle of a packed airport lounge inside Kuala Lumpur developed in spy novel fashion. CCTV footage shows that two women approached him while he was waiting to board a flight to Macau. One of the women is then seen grabbing him from behind before walking away.
The victim said he had been sprayed with a liquid in the face, and that he felt dizzy. He was taken to the airport’s clinic but soon displayed more severe symptoms. Nam had a seizure and died on the way to hospital.
Blame was soon pointed at operators working on behalf of the North Korean government. Kim Jong-Nam was Kim-Jong Un’s half-brother -and more importantly, his eldest- and might have been perceived as a threat to Jong Un’s autocratic rule.
Under North Korea’s tradition, the eldest son would be first in line for succession. However, it is thought Nam was seen as an embarrassment for his father, Kim Jong-Il, and had thus fallen out of favor after an incident at Narita Airport in Japan back in 2001, when Nam was intercepted attempting to enter the country under a fake passport.
Nam had been living in exile for some time, and is said to have lived under more ‘traditional’ Western values.
The drama surrounding Nam’s death was compounded further after North Korean diplomats turned up at the hospital where the corpse was taken to, and demanded the body before an autopsy could be carried out. This was denied. It is thought that someone attempted to break into the mortuary the following day.
The fact that a highly lethal substance like VX has been used inside a civilian facility is likely to raise the high stakes game of international intrigue to another level.
North Korea, a country which did not sign up to any international treaty in relation to the stockpiling of chemical warfare agents, is thought to have weaponized toxins in its arsenal.
Questions will now be asked as to how VX entered Malaysia. The substance is very hard detect in small amounts, and it would have taken a couple of drops to kill Nam.
Malaysian authorities have said that they will implement decontamination procedures at the airport, as VX may remain active for a time after deployment.
VX entered popular culture after 1996′ film The Rock, starring Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, and Ed Harris. In the movie, a disgruntled general commanding a group of rebellious marines loads a rocket battery with VX pellets and threatens to fire them into San Francisco, unless demands for financial restitution for war veterans are met.