MALAYSIAN authorities are yet to confirm the origin of the deadly toxic substance used in an attack against the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s supreme leader, but international experts say the VX nerve agent was likely smuggled into the country.
Malaysian Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said the substance was prohibited in the country and investigations were underway to determine how it was brought in to the Southeast Asian nation.
“We don’t know yet (how it was brought into the country). We are trying to find out,” he said, as quoted by local daily The Star.
“But if it is a very small amount, it would have been very hard to detect.”
Earlier, Khalid said the agent was found based on swabs from the eyes and face of Kim Jong Nam who was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (Klia2) on Feb 13.
The agent used to kill Jong Nam is considered an extremely toxic substance used in chemical warfare as a nerve agent. The liquid has an amber-like colour and is tasteless and odorless, making it difficult to detect.
The substance, which is said to be one of the world’s deadliest, is also classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations in UN Resolution 687.
Jong Nam, 46, was killed while preparing to board a flight to Macau, where he lived in exile with his family under the protection of Beijing.
Earlier this week, the police chief said a Vietnamese woman and a Indonesian woman wiped a liquid on Jong Nam’s face. They later washed their hands at the airport toilet and fled the scene.
Khalid had also said upon arrest, one of the women had vomited several times, which was a tell-tale symptom of exposure to the deadly chemical.
South Korean and U.S. officials believe the killing was an assassination carried out by agents of the North.
Free Malaysia Today quoted Khalid as saying that the police were working with the atomic energy department of the Malaysian Nuclear Agency to comb the airport for traces of the substance and a hold clean-up operation of the crime scene.
“We are concerned about it (the liquid) and will see if the substance is radioactive.”
However, he assured the public that klia2 airport, where the attack took place, was still safe for passengers.
A regional security expect said the VX nerve agent could have easily been smuggled via a diplomatic pouch which are not subject to regular checks by customs officials.
Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, was quoted by the AFP as saying that North Korea had previously used the pouches to smuggle items, including contraband that would be scrutinised if they were inspected normally.
North Korea, he added was known to manufacture the substance in the past.
Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher who focuses on North Korea’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes at Rand Corp in California, United States, suggested that the substance was produced professionally.
“You don’t make VX in a kitchen lab,” he said, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal (paywall).
“This stuff is extraordinarily poisonous.”