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Was Kim Jong Nam Really Killed With Deadly VX Nerve Gas: Defense Asks

The defense tried to cast doubt on claims that the North Korean exile was fatally poisoned as the trial against two women accused of the assassination entered its first week.
Siti Aisyah is escorted by police as she leaves a Sepang court in Malaysia on 13 April 2017. Photo by Lai Seng Sin/Reuters

The kind of nerve gas wiped on the face of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother North Korean despot Kim Jong Un, is so dangerous that even a single drop can kill. So then why are the two women accused of assassinating the older Kim still alive?

The VX nerve gas has loomed large over the early days of the trial—which began earlier this week at a court house on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Court officials have donned face masks and surgical gloves to inspect blood samples and face swabs taken from Kim's corpse. They opened bags containing his clothes and filed reports indicating that the clothes of Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah contained trace amounts of VX nerve agent.


Watch: Siti Aisyah's Family Speaks Out as She Heads to Court Over Kim Jong Nam Killing

The prosecution contends that both women assassinated Kim at the behest of North Korean spies, grabbing the portly playboy in exile and wiping a rag containing deadly VX nerve gas across his face. The women even perfected the attack during several practice runs at a Kuala Lumpur mall, the prosecution said.

But the defense claims that the real assassin could have poisoned Kim sometime before the women pounced, using the highly public attack as a cover so they could slip out of the country undetected. At least four North Korean suspects fled Malaysia shortly after the attack, according to local police.

The women themselves say they were duped into killing Kim by a team of North Korean operatives who convinced them it was all part of a prank video show.

The brazen assassination of Kim at Kuala Lumpur's international airport set off a diplomatic row between North Korea and Malaysia, one of the reclusive state's few friends left in the world, and captured the attention of the entire region. The killing was caught on tape, as was the now-iconic image of Doan Thi Huong leaving the crime scene in a shirt emblazoned with the phrase "LOL."

Malaysian authorities say that Kim was dead less than a half-hour after being exposed to the deadly nerve agent. He was "clutching his head and he was closing his eyes tightly and his face was very red and he was sweating profusely," in the moments before his death according to testimony by the doctor to attended to him at the airport.


"I saw the patient having tonic-clonic seizure," Nik Mohd Azrul Ariff Raja Azlan told the court on Monday. "His eyes rolled upward and there was drooling of saliva. He was not responding to our call."

So then how could Siti and Huong handle such a deadly chemical and live to tell the tale?

Lawyers defending the women asked a medical expert on Thursday why neither one showed signs of exposure to VX nerve gas despite being seen on security camera footage allegedly wiping the deadly chemical all over Kim's face.

Is the nerve gas something you can just wash off without falling ill yourself, the defense asked Dr Raja Subramaniam, head of laboratories at the Centre for Analysis of Chemical Weapons at Malaysia's Department of Chemistry.

"We have to wash with running water plus physical scrubbing for a certain period of time before you get medical assistance," Subramaniam explained.

Serious questions still cloud the trial. How did a woman like Siti, an Indonesian migrant worker and divorced mother of one from a small village in rural Banten province, end up involved in an international assassination plot? What happened to the other two people arrested by police—the North Korean and Malaysian suspects? And if this was an assassination, why did Kim Jong Un want is half-brother, a man living in exile in Macau for more than a decade, dead?

The trial is expected to continue for at least two more months as both sides call dozens of witnesses and experts. Both women face the death penalty if convicted. The prosecution, in a bid to show that they understand the sensitivity of the trial, said it was going to take things slow and by the book. They are expected to call at least 30 witnesses to the stand.

"To me this is another murder trial—we go by evidence," Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad told AFP. "We are aware that the whole planet is watching us, we cannot run away from the facts and evidence."