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26 May 2024

Malaysia declares airport safe for travel after nerve agent attack

A Hazmat team conducts checks at KLIA2 airport terminal in Sepang, Malaysia February 26, 2017. REUTERS

By Reuters

Malaysia on Sunday declared its international airport a "safe zone" after completing a sweep of the terminal where the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was assaulted with a deadly chemical last week.

Kim Jong Nam died on Feb. 13 after being smothered at the airport's budget terminal with VX nerve agent, classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.

Since then, tens of thousands of people have passed through the terminal, with the location of the assault remaining accessible.

The police forensic team, fire department and Atomic Energy Licensing Board swept the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA2) at 1 a.m. on Feb. 26 (1700 GMT on Feb. 25).

"We confirm, number one, there is no hazardous material found in KLIA2, number two, KLIA2 is free from any form of contamination of hazardous material and thirdly, KLIA2 is declared a safe zone," Abdul Samat Mat, the police chief of Selangor state who is leading the investigation, told reporters at the airport.

The location of the assault was cordoned off during the sweep but the rest of the terminal remained open.


Security camera footage released by Japanese broadcaster Fuji TV showed the moment two women assaulted Kim Jong Nam with a cloth authorities suspect was laced with the nerve agent.

In later clips Kim is seen asking airport officials for medical help. Airport authorities said he complained of dizziness and died on the way to hospital.

Authorities have said there have been no anomalies in medical cases reported at the clinic since the incident. They also said medical staff at the clinic are in good health.

The two women - one Indonesian and one Vietnamese - have been detained, along with a North Korean man.

Seven other North Koreans have been identified as suspects or are wanted for questioning, four of whom have since left for Pyongyang, police said.

Police are also sweeping other locations in Kuala Lumpur that suspects may have visited.

Police chief Abdul Samah said on Saturday authorities raided an apartment in an upscale Kuala Lumpur suburb earlier this week in connection with the death, and were checking for any traces of unusual chemicals in the apartment.


Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in exile with his family in Macau under Chinese protection, had spoken publicly in the past against his family's dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed state.

South Korean and U.S. officials said he was assassinated by North Korean agents. North Korea has not acknowledged his death.

Malaysia's health minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said at a press conference on Sunday that autopsy findings were consistent with police reports.

The minister said the chemical caused "serious paralysis which led to the death of the person in such a short period of time."

The Indonesian attacker, Siti Aishah, was reported to be unwell, possibly due to contact with the chemical.

Subramaniam said authorities were running tests to ascertain whether Siti was affected by the chemical.

At another event Subramanium said Kim Jong Nam would have died within 15-20 minutes after VX was applied on his face. He added that identifying the body officially is still a challenge.

"Best would be to have the next of kin, blood-related kin, where we can do a DNA profiling...so that is the challenge," he said.

No next of kin has claimed the body. While Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed Kim Jong Nam's identity, official confirmation is pending.

Malaysia said on Saturday that it may issue an arrest warrant for a North Korean diplomat wanted for questioning over the case, as diplomatic tensions between the two countries escalated over the killing.

The diplomat is not known to have met the police yet.