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News Wrap: Chemical weapon killed Kim Jong Un’s half-brother

February 24, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
In our news wrap Friday, Malaysian toxicologists have determined that a chemical weapon was used to assassinate the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Also, more than 60 people are dead after a pair of bombings by Islamic State militants near a northern town in Syria, which Turkish and Syrian fighters retook just yesterday.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: At least 68 people are dead, after a pair of Islamic State bombings in Syria. They happened near the northern town of Al-Bab, which Turkish and Syrian fighters retook from ISIS just yesterday. In one attack, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a security checkpoint. Most of the dead were civilians who were lined up for permits to return home.

Iraq’s air force struck Islamic State targets in Syria for the first time today. Warplanes hit two towns, in response to recent ISIS-claimed bombings in Baghdad. Iraqi forces are also battling ISIS back in their own country. Troops pushed into the first neighborhood of Western Mosul, as part of a now six-day offensive. The U.N. says about 750,000 civilians are trapped in the area.

Malaysian toxicologists have now determined that a chemical weapon was used to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. He was attacked at a crowded airport in Kuala Lumpur.

Margaret Warner has our report.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s the latest stunning twist in a murder case already brimming with mystery.

Malaysian police now say Kim Jong-nam, estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was killed by the deadly nerve agent V.X.

Two female assailants, caught on surveillance cameras, allegedly rubbed the poison on Kim’s face in an airport two weeks ago. They’re both under arrest, along with several North Koreans living in Malaysia.

KHALID ABU BAKAR, Royal Malaysia Police (through intepreter): The chemical is illegal. It is a chemical weapon. We are investigating how it entered the country.

MARGARET WARNER: The discovery of the nerve agent has deepened speculation that the North Korean regime was behind the apparent hit, a charge Pyongyang has denied.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, V.X. is among the most potent nerve agents in the world. It is odorless, and tasteless. Tiny amounts can kill in minutes. Producing it requires sophisticated equipment. Experts say that points to North Korea, which has reportedly stockpiled the chemical.

Jean Lee is the former Pyongyang bureau chief of the Associated Press. She spoke to us via Skype from Seoul.

JEAN LEE, Journalist: The other thing, obviously, that it confirms to us, if it indeed is the work of the North Koreans, is that they are making chemical weapons and that they are willing to use them

MARGARET WARNER: Malaysian authorities said they began to suspect V.X. was used after one of the attackers fell ill. So, who was their target? Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and once considered his heir apparent.

But after he was caught trying to enter Japan illegally in 2001, reportedly to visit Disneyland, he fell out of favor. His half-brother Kim Jong-un ascended to power when their father died in 2011. Kim Jong-nam had been living in exile.

Jean Lee says North Korea’s leader might have seen his half-brother as a threat to his legitimacy.

JEAN LEE: Perhaps he was angry that his half-brother had been speaking out against the regime. This, of course, is illegal under North Korean law. And it could have been a strong message that he was sending to North Koreans overseas, including his brother, including defectors.

MARGARET WARNER: The younger Kim has purged many relatives within North Korea in the past. He had his uncle executed in 2013.

Malaysian officials say they will decontaminate the airport to eliminate any residual trace of the nerve toxin.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So far, there have been no reports of any innocent bystanders in the airport falling ill.

Back in this country, the FBI is investigating a possible hate crime, following a shooting in Kansas this week; 51-year-old Adam Purinton has been charged with killing an Indian-American engineer Wednesday night. A second Indian-American man was wounded. Purinton is accused of opening fire at a bar outside Kansas City. A bartender said he used — quote — “racial slurs.”

Today, the victim’s brother called on Indian officials to act.

VENU MADHAV, Brother of Victim: Government should voice out this strongly, because our brothers, sisters and our relatives are there. And if you really look into this incident, this is not done by a teenager or a burglar or something like that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: After the shooting, Purinton was found and arrested in Missouri. Today, he was extradited back to Kansas.

And stocks edged higher on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 11 points to close at 20821. The Nasdaq rose nearly 10, and the S&P 500 added three. For the week, the Dow gained 1 percent. Both the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 added a fraction of a percent.

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