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Poisoning of Kim Jong-nam caused paralysis, quick death: Malaysia

Malaysia's Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 26, 2017.

AP

Malaysia's Health Minister said Sunday that the dose of nerve agent given to North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un's exiled half-brother was so high that it killed him within 20 minutes and caused "very serious paralysis."

Kim Jong-nam died Feb. 13 at Kuala Lumpur's airport in what Malaysian police say was a well-planned hit by two women who wiped a liquid on Mr. Kim's face. Police revealed Friday that the banned chemical VX nerve agent was used to kill Mr. Kim, raising the stakes in the case.

Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said the dose of VX given to Mr. Kim was so high that he showed symptoms within minutes. Mr. Kim fainted at the airport clinic and died in the ambulance while en route to a hospital, he said.

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Read more: The mysterious life and death of Kim Jong-nam

Read more: What makes the chemical agent VX so deadly?

"VX only requires 10 milligrams to be absorbed into the system to be lethal, so I presume that the amount of dose that went in is more than that," he said at a news conference. "The doses were so high and it did it so fast and all over the body, so it would have affected his heart, it would have affected his lungs, it would have affected everything."

Asked how long it took for Mr. Kim to die after he was attacked, Dr. Subramaniam said, "I would think it was about, from the time of onset, from the time of application, 15-20 minutes."

Malaysia hasn't directly accused the North Korean government of being behind the attack, but officials have said four North Korean men provided two women with poison to carry it out. The four men fled Malaysia on the same day as the killing, while the women – one from Indonesia and the other Vietnamese – were arrested.

Experts say the nerve agent used to kill Mr. Kim was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory and is banned under an international treaty. But North Korea never signed the treaty, and has spent decades developing a complex chemical weapons program.

Mr. Kim was not an obvious political threat to his estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-un. But he may have been seen as a potential rival in North Korea's dynastic dictatorship, even though he had lived in exile for years.

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North Korea has denied any role in the attack.

Earlier Sunday, Dr. Subramaniam said the state chemistry department's finding of the VX toxin confirmed the hospital's autopsy result that suggested a "chemical agent caused very serious paralysis" that led to death "in a very short period of time." The VX agent can lead to death very quickly in high doses, he said.

He said the final autopsy report would be submitted to police soon.

Dr. Subramaniam also said that there have been no reports of anyone else being sickened by the toxin, but that medical workers who attended to Mr. Kim would remain under observation for possible delayed effects.

Tens of thousands of passengers have passed through the airport since the apparent assassination was carried out. No areas were cordoned off and protective measures were not taken.

Early Sunday, more than a dozen officers in protective gear swept the budget terminal where Mr. Kim was attacked and said they found no traces of VX.

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Abdul Samah Mat, the police official leading the investigation, said the terminal was "free from any form of contamination of hazardous material" and declared it a "safe zone" after a two-hour sweep.

He also said a condominium on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur that was raided by police last week had been rented by the four North Korean suspects who left the country. He said police were still testing a seized substance for traces of any chemicals.

Abdul Samah said the Indonesian woman who was arrested, Siti Aisyah, vomited in a taxi on the way from the airport after the attack but is fine now. He said that more tests were needed to determine if the two arrested suspects were given antidotes so the nerve agent wouldn't kill them.

An antidote, atropine, can be injected after exposure and is carried by medics in war zones where weapons of mass destruction are suspected.

On Saturday, representatives from the Indonesian and Vietnamese embassies met with the two arrested women, who both said they thought they were part of a prank show.

Aisyah said she was paid the equivalent of $90 (U.S.), according to Andriano Erwin, Indonesia's deputy ambassador to Malaysia.

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