US finds North Korea killed Kim Jong Nam with VX agent

AFP
Wednesday, Mar 07, 2018
Photo: Reuters

The United States formally concluded Tuesday that North Korea murdered Kim Jong Un's half-brother with the banned VX nerve agent, blasting Pyongyang for deploying a chemical weapon in a packed international airport.

Kim Jong Nam died in February last year, shortly after two women sprayed his face with a liquid as he walked through Kuala Lumpur airport.

The brazen daylight assassination unleashed diplomatic shockwaves and widespread condemnation of North Korea.

The two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese national, are currently on trial in Malaysia where they are accused of using a nerve agent to murder Kim Jong Nam, who lived in exile in China and was seen as a potential rival to his younger half-brother.

The two women say they were recruited to take part in what they thought were prank TV shows but were instead tricked into becoming inadvertent assassins, in an elaborate plot by a group of North Korean agents who then fled country.

On Tuesday, Washington announced it had formally concluded that VX -- an extremely powerful nerve agent -- was used to conduct the slaying and that North Korea was to blame.

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"The Government of North Korea used the chemical warfare agent VX to assassinate Kim Jong Nam, in the Kuala Lumpur airport," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD programme of any kind," she added.

The statement gave no details or evidence on how the US had come to their conclusion.

New sanctions

The finding triggered another layer of US economic sanctions against Pyongyang, just as South Korea reported that the regime is ready for talks to end a nuclear standoff.

Under US law, when a country or leader violates its ban on chemical and biological weapons, an import ban is imposed on its products, but North Korea is already under severe US and UN sanctions, and Tuesday's decision will have little impact.

Kim Jong Un's older half-brother had once been seen as their father Kim Jong Il's natural heir, and some reports had suggested that China might be grooming him to replace the younger man in the event of a crisis.

The ongoing trial in Malaysia heard testimony that Kim Jong Nam expressed fears for his life months before his death.

Source : Reuters, AFP

Indonesian Siti Aisyah who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, is escorted as she leaves the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 3, 2017.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, is escorted as she leaves the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 3, 2017.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah who are on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, are escorted as they leave the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 3, 2017.

Two women accused of assassinating the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with a banned nerve agent pleaded not guilty at the start of a high-profile murder trial in a Malaysian court

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, a Vietnamese, are charged with killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX, a chemical poison banned by the United Nations, at Kuala Lumpur's international airport on Feb. 13.

Both women wore bullet-proof vest as they were led into the court on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital. They face the death penalty if convicted.

The women have pleaded not guilty, saying they thought they were involved in some sort of prank for a reality TV show.

Police cars transporting Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who are accused of killing Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, arrive at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 2, 2017.

Journalists wait to enter the Shah Alam High Court, where Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong are on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 2, 2017.

Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia Rusdi Kirana speaks to journalists at the Shah Alam High Court, where Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong are on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 2, 2017.

Hisyam Teh Toh Teik, one of the lawyers for Vietnamese woman Doan Thi Huong, speaks to journalists during a break in the trial for Huong and Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah, at the Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur on October 2, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Hisyam Teh Toh Teik, Salim Bashir and Naran Singh, lawyers for Vietnamese woman Doan Thi Huong, speak to journalists during a break in the trial for Huong and Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah, at the Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur on October 2, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Gooi Soon Seng, a lawyer for Indonesian defendant Siti Aisyah, walks out during a break in the trial of Aisyah and Vietnamese woman Doan Thi Huong at the Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur on October 2, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

He spent much of his time in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau and it is not clear why he may have left the relative safety of China's protection to travel to Malaysia if he thought his life was at risk.

The State Department's conclusions on the use of VX nerve agent come as anti-terror police in Britain investigate a potential poisoning of a former Russian spy in the sleepy town of Salisbury.

Sergei Skripal, a former military intelligence colonel who was convicted in Russia of spying for Britain and later released in a spy swap, was found unconscious on a bench in the English town alongside his daughter. Both are in critical condition.

The case immediately drew comparisons to Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-spy who died of radioactive polonium poisoning in London in 2006. A British inquiry ruled in 2016 that Putin "probably approved" the killing.

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