Malaysian Police Say Kim Jong Nam Killed with VX Nerve Agent

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February 24, 2017

The Malaysian police announced on Friday that the poison used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was VX nerve agent. VX is a chemical weapon and is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. The only previous known uses of VX as a weapon of assassination were carried out by the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo in the 1990s.

Chemical Structure of VX
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Kim Jong Nam died on February 13 after two women approached him at the airport in Kuala Lumpur with poison on their hands and rubbed it on his face. CNS expert Raymond Zilinskas said that it is unlikely that the women applied the VX directly, as the fumes from the poison would have killed them. He suggested that the killers may have delivered the agent in “binary form,” whereby two non-fatal elements are smeared on the victim’s face and combine to create the lethal nerve agent.

South Korea has accused North Korea of carrying out the killing, with South Korean officials asserting that the incident was a “naked example of Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror.” North Korea is not party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and is estimated to have a chemical weapons production capability of up to 4,500 metric tons during a typical year and 12,000 tons during a period of crisis. It is widely reported to possess a large arsenal of chemical weapons, including mustard, phosgene and sarin gas.

Experts Available for Comment

For more on the implications of this latest development, the following CNS experts are available for comment:

  • Raymond Zilinskas, Director, Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program
    Monterey, CA · 831.647.6545· rzilinskas@miis.edu
  • Jeffrey Lewis, Director, East Asian Nonproliferation Program
    Monterey, CA · 831.647.6616 · jlewis@miis.edu · @ArmsControlWonk
  • Joshua Pollack, Editor, Nonproliferation Review · Senior Research Associate
    Washington DC · 202.842.3100 x307 · jpollack@miis.edu · @Joshua_Pollack
  • Leonard Spector, CNS Executive Director, Washington, DC
    Washington DC · 202.842.3100 x302 · lspector@miis.edu

Relevant Analysis

For more information or inquiries, contact Miles Pomper and/or Gabrielle Tarini.

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