World

Health minister: Kim Jong Nam suffered paralysis, dead in 20 minutes

KUALA LUMPUR Mr Kim Jong Nam was dead within 20 minutes of being attacked and would have suffered a "very painful death" as his major organs shut down, Malaysia's health minister said yesterday.

The estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was killed with lethal nerve agent VX, police have revealed, after he was ambushed at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb 13.

"He fainted in the clinic and died in the ambulance," Health Minister S. Subramaniam said.

"From the onset of the attack, he died within 15 to 20 minutes."

Autopsy results suggested the 45-year-old died from "very serious paralysis" due to a lethal nerve agent, Mr Subramaniam said.

Police are holding two women suspected of staging the attack as well as a North Korean man.

Nerve agents prevent the proper operation of an enzyme that acts as the body's "off switch" for glands and muscles.

Without that switch, glands and muscles are constantly stimulated, eventually tire and become unable to sustain breathing.

"The muscle goes into a state of permanent contraction," Mr Subramaniam said, adding the dose was "so high" in this case the heart and lungs would have been rapidly affected.

The scene of the killing, the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, was swept by civil defence personnel in hazmat suits overnight before being declared safe.

Police sealed off large areas of the Terminal Two departures hall as a few curious onlookers watched.

"The police cordon was at three areas - the scene of the attack, the bathroom where the two female suspects washed their hands and pathway leading to the airport clinic - (and) has been taken down," a police spokesman said.

The operation came almost two weeks after Kim's death and puzzled some travellers.

STRANGE

Student Hariz Syafiq, 21, who was due to take a domestic flight later, told AFP: "Yes, I'm worried a bit. Why didn't they quarantine the airport?

"It's a bit strange."

One of the two female suspects in custody, 25-year-old Indonesian Siti Aisyah, reportedly told a senior diplomat on Saturday that she had been paid just RM400 (S$125) for her role, adding she believed she was handling a liquid like "baby oil".

The other woman, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, told Hanoi officials she had been tricked and thought she was taking part in a prank for a comedy video. - AFP

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