Must-watch: video showing murder of Kim Jong Nam

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Extraordinary security footage from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia showing details surrounding the February 13 killing by poison of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. The video was posted by Fuji Television and the Wall Street Journal, and can be seen by clicking here.

The video makes it possible to establish a rough time-line. Kim Jong Nam is seen walking through the air terminal.  Although the attack itself takes place in the distance and is difficult to see clearly, it appears that at least one woman comes up behind him, swipes her hands over his face, and walk away with her hands held away from her body. Police later said she had been trained to do that, and to wash her hands immediately afterwards.

Kim can then walks up to security guards to report the incident, apparently telling them that he felt dizzy. They escort him to an airport medical clinic. After arriving, he was described as having a seizure and losing consciousness. He was taken to hospital but could not be resuscitated.

Extrapolating from the video, it looks like the poison was a liquid absorbed through the skin with an onset from exposure to severe toxicity of approximately 10-15 minutes. Discussion on toxicology discussion boards have brought up the following possibilities:

  • Tetramine: Tetramethylenedisulfotetramine (TETS) is a rat poison that has been banned since 1984 but which — according to Wikipedia — is still used in China. It is a white powder that is slightly soluble both in water and DMSO, a solvent that could accelerate dermal absorption. TETS is a neurotoxin that acts as a GABA antagonist causing refractory status epileptics, coma, and death. There is no specific antidote.
  • Aconite: This plant poison is used in several Chinese herbal medicines.Aconite is a sodium channel opener, causing gastrointestinal symptoms, perioral paresthesias, bradycardia, and cardiac arrhythmias. Onset after ingestion is reported to be 10 – 20 minutes. Scientific literature indicates that aconite can be absorbed through the skin.
  • TTX: Tetrodotoxin — a neurotoxin found most famously in pufferfish (fugu) — is a sodium channel blocker. Prominent manifestations of toxicity include perioral paresthesias, paralysis, and respiratory failure — none of which were reported in association with Kim’s death. Also, the time course from exposure to death is longer than 15 minutes, even after ingestion.
  • Cyanide: Considered somewhat unlikely, since the onset of severe toxicity would be expected to occur sooner than is evident in this case.
  • DNP: Dinitrophenol — a mitochondrial poison that uncouples oxidative phosphorylation — has been used as a pesticide as well as a diet aid. It can be absorbed through the skin, but usually presents with severe diaphoresis and GI symptoms, which were not apparent in this case.

Several people have been arrested in this case, and others are being sought. Apparently, the police no longer believe the story offered by two women suspects who claimed they believed they were taking part in a harmless television prank. Recent news reports indicate that there was a break-in attempt at the morgue where Kim’s body is being held.

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