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Jong-nam died a 'horribly painful' death, says toxicologist

PETALING JAYA: North Korean Kim Jong-nam (pic), who was assassinated at the KL International Airport 2 on Feb 13, would have died a "horribly painful" death, says former USM toxicologist Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

He told The Star Online that the VX nerve agent used on Jong-nam was so potent that his assassins would have needed no more than 10 to 15 mg for it to have been lethal.

Dr Dzulkefly said VX - which is a banned chemical - acts on the nervous system, jamming it and causing the victim to die of suffocation within minutes or seconds after contact.

"It is a very frightening agent. It was used in chemical warfare and I attended courses that studied its effects in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

"In this case, from what I see, it was dermal inhalation, which means it must be acute toxicity.

"These neurotoxic agents act on enzymes of the neurochemical system, which then attempt to shut down your system. This is when the victim goes through suffocation and will eventually collapse," he said.

On Friday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed that VX was the poison used to kill Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

He later said that one of the two women who staged the attack was unwell as a result of poisoning from the same chemical.

Dr Dzulkefly said that at present, there is no antidote for high dosages of the VX agent.

On the women who attacked Jong-nam - Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25 - the former professor said they could not have touched the chemical with their bare hands or even normal gloves as VX can be absorbed through the skin and causes severe poisoning.

"The women who put the chemical on his face must have guarded themselves well and must have contained the liquid well until the point they had to put it on his face."

On one of the two women vomiting because of exposure to the chemical in a low dosage, Dr Dzulkefly said it was one of the effects of VX.

"It happens when they are not properly protected. You can have diarrhoea and vomiting. But such levels of exposure would not lead to death as there are antidotes for it.

"But when the dosage is massive (10mg or above), then it is lethal," he said.

Jong-nam was attacked by the two women at KLIA2 on Feb 13 just before he was to board his flight to Macau.

He died en route to Hospital Putrajaya after he was brought to the airport clinic and found to have drifted into a coma.