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Malaysia says airport safe, Kim Jong-nam autopsy shows effects of nerve agent

Malaysia's health minister says autopsy results suggested a nerve agent caused "very serious paralysis" that killed the exiled half-brother of North Korea's leader within 20 minutes.

Poison caused 'very serious paralysis,' killing North Korean leader's half-brother

People watch a television showing news reports of Kim Jong-nam in Seoul on Tuesday. South Korea has accused its enemies in North Korea of dispatching a hit squad to kill Kim Jong-nam at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, saying two female assassins poisoned him and then fled in a taxi. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

Malaysia's health minister says autopsy results suggested a nerve agent caused "very serious paralysis" that killed the exiled half-brother of North Korea's leader within 20 minutes.

Subramaniam Sathasivam said the state chemistry department's finding of the VX toxin confirmed the hospital's autopsy result that suggested a "chemical agent caused very serious paralysis" that led to death "in a very short period of time."

 "VX only requires 10 milligrams to be absorbed into the system to be lethal, so I presume that the amount of dose that went in is more than that," he said at a news conference. "The doses were so high and it did it so fast and all over the body, so it would have affected his heart, it would have affected his lungs, it would have affected everything."

After sweeping the country's international airport for traces of that deadly nerve agent, Malaysian officials have declared the terminal where North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un's half-brother was killed a "safe zone."

The sweep of the Kuala Lumpur airport on Sunday local time was to check for possible traces of the deadly nerve agent suspected to have been used in the attack.

Senior police official Abdul Samah Mat, who is leading the investigation, declared the airport terminal safe after the sweep detected no hazardous material. More than a dozen officers in protective gear conducted the two-hour sweep. 

Since the Feb. 13 attack, tens of thousands of passengers have passed through the airport. No areas were cordoned off, and protective measures were not taken, though officials announced Friday that the facility would be decontaminated.

Abdul Samah says the terminal is "free from any form of contamination of hazardous material."

Malaysia's National Police Deputy Inspector-General Noor Rashid Ibrahim, front left, speaks in front of a screen showing detained Indonesian Siti Aisyah during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of the North Korean leader, in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 19. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters )

The Indonesian woman who is one of the suspects in the killing said she was paid $90 for what she believed was a prank, an Indonesian official said Saturday.

Siti Aisyah, 25, also told authorities she did not want her parents to see her in custody, Andriano Erwin, Indonesia's deputy ambassador to Malaysia, said one day after Malaysia revealed that VX nerve agent was used in the bizarre killing at Kuala Lumpur's airport.

"She doesn't want her family get sad to see her condition," Erwin said after a 30-minute meeting with Aisyah. "She only delivered a message through us to her father and mother not to be worried and take care of their health."

The public poisoning of Kim Jong-nam, which took place amid crowds of travellers, appeared to be a well planned hit. Kim was dead within hours of the attack, in which two women went up behind him and appeared to smear something onto his face.

Aisyah, 25, has said she was duped into the attack, but Malaysian police say she and the other suspect, a Vietnamese woman who also is in custody, knew what they were doing.

The revelation that VX nerve agent killed Kim has boosted speculation that North Korea had dispatched a hit squad to Malaysia to kill Kim.

The thick, oily poison was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory, experts say, and is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention. North Korea, a prime suspect in the case, never signed that treaty, and has spent decades developing a complex chemical weapons program.

This photo from Indonesian news portal Kumparan shows the portrait on the passport of Siti Aisyah, 25, an Indonesian woman suspected to be involved in Kim Jong-nam's death. (Kumparan via AP)

Though Kim Jong-nam was not an obvious political threat to his sibling, he may have been seen as a potential rival in the country's dynastic dictatorship.

Malaysia hasn't directly accused the North Korean government of being behind the attack, but officials have said four North Korean men provided the two women with poison. The four fled Malaysia shortly after the killing.

On Saturday, police confirmed that a raid earlier in the week on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was part of the investigation. Senior police official Abdul Samah Mat, who is handling the investigation, did not specify what authorities found there, but said the items were being tested for traces of any chemicals.

Kim Jong-nam, who had been living abroad for years, was approached by the two women as he waited for a flight home to Macau. In grainy surveillance footage, the women appear to rub something onto his face before walking away in separate directions.

Malaysian police said they had been trained to go immediately to the washroom and clean their hands.

VX is an extremely powerful poison, with an amount no larger than a few grains of salt enough to kill. An odourless chemical, it can be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Then, in anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, it can cause a range of symptoms, from blurred vision to a headache. Enough exposure leads to convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and death.

It has the consistency of motor oil and can take days or even weeks to evaporate. It could have contaminated anywhere Kim was afterward, including medical facilities and the ambulance he was transported in, experts say.

​North Korea diplomat faces questioning

Malaysia says it will issue an arrest warrant for a North Korean diplomat if he refuses to cooperate with the investigation.

The investigation has unleashed a serious diplomatic fight between Malaysia and North Korea.

Malaysia said earlier in the week that Hyon Kwang Song, a second secretary at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, was wanted for questioning. But authorities at the time acknowledged that he has diplomatic immunity and that they couldn't compel him to appear.

On Saturday, Malaysia's tone changed.

Abdul Samah Mat, the police chief leading the investigation, said authorities would give the diplomat "reasonable" time to come forward. If he doesn't, police will issue a notice compelling him to do so, though diplomats have immunity privileges even in criminal cases.

CBC's Alana Cole has the latest developments in the investigation into the death of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un 1:47