Malaysian police have said the substance used in the killing of Kim Jong-nam was a “VX nerve agent”, a hugely potent liquid only used in chemical warfare.
The finding follows a preliminary analysis of swabs taken of the face and eyes of the victim, who is the half-brother of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
North Korea demands 'sinister' Malaysia stop investigating Kim Jong-nam death
The highly toxic substance – also known as ethyl N-2-Diisopropylaminoethyl Methylphosphonothiolate – is classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
Kim Jong-nam, who lived most of his life outside his home country, died on 13 February from a seizure on his way to hospital after complaining that a woman had sprayed chemicals on his face at Kuala Lumpur airport. Leaked CCTV footage show a woman grabbing his face.
The US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes VX as the most potent of all nerve agents and its only known use is in chemical warfare.
It is a clear, colourless liquid with the consistency of engine oil. A fraction of a drop, absorbed through the skin, is enough to fatally disrupt the nervous system, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. It was developed in the 1950s in the UK during research into pesticides but was later found to be too toxic to be used safely.
Saddam Hussein was accused of using VX during the Iran-Iraq War and there are concerns that stockpiles also exist in Syria.
Malaysian police said its Centre for Chemical Weapons was still analysing other items related to Kim Jong-nam’s death.
Kim Jong-nam’s death: what we know so far
Four people of different nationalities have been arrested and seven North Koreans are wanted in connection with the attack. Malaysian police have not directly pinpointed North Korea as being behind the death.
On Thursday, North Korea accused Malaysia of having a “sinister purpose” and collaborating with South Korea over the killing. In the first report from state-run KCNA news agency since the attack, the government accused Malaysia of breaking international law by conducting autopsies on a diplomatic passport holder and withholding the body.
“This proves that the Malaysian side is going to politicise the transfer of the body in utter disregard of international law and morality and thus attain a sinister purpose,” it said.
According to people who knew him, Kim Jong-nam spent his last few years highly paranoid, hiding from the regime run by his dictator half-brother while struggling with a sense of powerlessness over the fate of his homeland.
The killing has led to a diplomatic face-off between Malaysia and North Korea and refocused attention on Pyongyang, one of the world’s most isolated regimes with nuclear capabilities.