Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, was killed by a weapon of mass destruction, police revealed on Friday.
Kim, the older sibling of dictator Kim Jong-un, was poisoned at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur last week by the highly toxic nerve agent VX.
Authorities began a sweep of the airport for any traces of the deadly toxin, the use of which has bolstered speculation that North Korea was behind the February 13 attack.
The case also raised questions about public safety, although there was no sign that any bystanders had fallen ill, the Associated Press reports.
Police said one of the alleged attackers had been vomiting in the hours after the attack, but there were no reports that anyone else had been unwell.
Asked if people should avoid the airport because of fears of contamination, Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said: “No. No. No. But I don’t know. I am not the expert.” He said experts would decontaminate the airport to ensure its safety.
VX nerve agent, deadly even in minute amounts, was detected on Kim’s eyes and face, Khalid said earlier in a written statement, citing a preliminary analysis from the country’s Chemistry Department.
“Our preliminary finding of the chemical that caused the death of Kim Chol was VX nerve,” he said. Kim Chol is the name on the passport found on the victim, but a Malaysian official previously confirmed he is North Korea leader Kim Jong-un’s older half brother.
According to Malaysian investigators, two female suspects coated their hands with the liquid toxin and wiped it on Kim’s face as he waited for a flight home to Macau, where he lived with his family.
He sought help from airport staff but fell into convulsions and died on the way to the hospital within two hours of the attack, police said.
Malaysian police say the women washed their hands immediately after the attack as they’d been trained to do.
One of the two women accused of wiping the toxin on Kim’s face became sick later and suffered from vomiting, police said.
Authorities are still investigating how the lethal nerve agent entered Malaysia.
Police previously said the airport had not been decontaminated but that passengers should be confident it was safe. Asked Friday in a text message whether it had still not been decontaminated, Khalid said, “We are doing it now”.
VX nerve agent has the consistency of motor oil and can take days or even weeks to evaporate. It could have contaminated anywhere Kim was afterward, including medical facilities and the ambulance he was transported in, experts say.
Dr Bruce Goldberger, a leading toxicologist who heads the forensic medicine division at the University of Florida, said even a tiny amount of VX nerve agent can be fatal.
An antidote can be administered by injection. US medics and military personnel carried kits with them on the battlefield during the Iraq war in case they were exposed to the chemical weapon.
Symptoms from VX generally occur within seconds or minutes and could last for hours starting with confusion, possible drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, runny nose and watery eyes. Prior to death, a victim would likely have convulsions, seizures, loss of consciousness and paralysis.
VX is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which North Korea never signed.