15:03 GMT16 June 2021
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    Reports that Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was assassinated using the VX nerve agent, classified as a weapon of mass destruction, has given a new dimension to the mysterious murder, sparking questions on whether Pyongyang has a chemical weapons program complementing its nuclear and missile efforts.

    The South Korean Armed Forces are said to maintain that the reclusive state has accumulated 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin, sulfur mustard, tabun and hydrogen cyanide. If true, it would mean that Pyongyang has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world.

    Political analyst Dmitry Verkhoturov, an expert on North Korea, has warned against jumping to conclusions based on an isolated incident.

    The fact that Kim Jong Nam could have been killed with VX "cannot be used as evidence that North Korea has chemical weapons since a lethal dose of this nerve agent is only 100 micrograms or 0.0001 grams per kilogram of body mass," he pointed out. "Such a small dose of this chemical substance could have been acquired in a laboratory."

    Verkhoturov further said that the VX formula could be found in books on the subject and patents. He cited the 1995 Tokyo subway attack as a case in point, saying that Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday cult, produced sarin at its own lab.

    The place and the weapon used in the attack on Kim Jong Nam appear to indicate that those behind the assassination "did not have enough resources or agents to track Kim Jong Nam and murder him in a less risky environment," the expert said.

    Verkhoturov suggested that the airport was the only place where the perpetrators could approach Kim Jong Nam. If so, they were limited in their choice of weapons.

    "It is nearly impossible to get a weapon inside an airport, while the toxic VX could be dissolved in acetone, placed into a bottle of perfume and snuck in without raising alarm," he said. "This suggests that the murder was organized by those who have limited resources, but desperately want to influence politics in both Koreas by sparking a war, for instance."

    Verkhoturov doubted that North Korea was behind the murder. Many have claimed that Pyongyang wanted to get rid of Kim Jong Nam since he could present a threat to Kim Jong-un, but the analyst was skeptical.

    "Enemies of North Korea are the first ones to benefit from the murder. Kim Jong Nam's influence on politics in North Korea was minimal. He infrequently criticized the regime and called for economic reforms, but he had no ambitions to become the leader of this country and did not intend to return there," the analyst said.

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    nerve agent, VX gas, chemical weapons, murder, Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), South Korea
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