Friday, February 17, 2017

What killed Kim Jong-Nam?

Lethal on landing?
Credit: The Drive
Regarding that crazy story about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's half-brother being killed in a Malaysian airport, friend of the blog Josh Bloom asks a darn good question: 
Organic chemists are a different species (1). While the world was pondering the geopolitical ramifications of the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother Kim Jong-Nam, we were all wondering "what the hell was in those needles?" 
This morbid curiosity became even more so as the story changed. Instead of needles, different reports said that a liquid was either sprayed in Kim's face or applied with a cloth. For us chemists, that is even crazier. What on earth could be applied to the skin and cause dizziness, a headache, and then death so quickly? This has led to speculation about what chemical was used, because, given the "facts" that we now have, there is no obvious answer...
(Here's a little context for this story.)

He's actually got a list, which is helpful and sorta kinda morbid - but mostly helpful. Me, I'm going for an isocyanate of some sort, but maybe I'm wrong. It was probably fentanyl or something else boring-ish.

Readers, what say you? Animal, vegetable or mineral?

12 comments:

  1. It'd be hazardous for the woman delivering it, but I'd assume a cyanide in DMSO. I don't know what cyanide's solubility in DMSO is, but it wouldn't take all that much. In that case, though, why use a cloth - you could probably knock him over and use a bingo dabber, or spray a mist with a perfume bottle, and it would probably not be so obvious. An azide (HN3 if it wouldn't blow you up or kill you) might work, but don't know if the symptoms match.

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  2. KGB used a spray with KCN solution...

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  3. I think you could safely say "chemists," not specifically organic chemists. "What was in the needles?" was my first question as well!

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  4. Cyanide probably, mixed in some solubilizing yet volatile medium as Hap pointed out. Worth noting that he remained alive for some time and complained of not feeling well, which would testify to the relatively inefficient delivery.

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    1. I think Bloom suggested it (sort of) at the end of his post.

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  5. My guess ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valinomycin

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  6. I can think of maybe two dozens of fast-acting neurotoxic or cardiotoxic substances that could do this but it would not be responsible to list them here or discuss the details. From warfare agents to plant/animal/marine toxins, to synthetic high potency drugs, none of this is too difficult to obtain for a state-sponsored commando, especially when the government in question is known to do gruesome experiments on camp inmates.

    What puzzles me though is the elaborate ruse with the candid camera stuff, and apparent lack of protection from Chinese agents... This kind of setup would be ideal for a false flag operation, and maybe Chinese were looking for the "last drop" that would provide a justification for their sanctions against North Korea, as required by UN.

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  7. Some synthetic opioids, e.g. carfentanyl, are apparently so potent that touching them can be lethal.

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  8. The victim apparently suffered a seizure before dying, which may narrow down the list of potential poisons.

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    1. 7:09PM again; also, in the footage that is now available, the assailant does appear to reach from behind the victim and place something against his face for about 2-3 seconds - what could be a cloth soaked in the poison.

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    2. 7:09 PM for the last time, I would also put my chips on a neurotoxin, particularly in light of the seizure and the fact that he walked around for a while. I believe if it were a synthetic opioid he would have neither had a seizure, nor been walking around the airport for very long at all.

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  9. They are saying it was VX!

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/world/asia/kim-jong-nam-vx-nerve-agent-.html?ribbon-ad-idx=4&rref=world&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=World&pgtype=article&_r=0

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