VX survivor recalls brush with Aum assassin in ’95

AP, Kyodo

Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult that carried out the deadly sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system in 1995, also experimented with an even deadlier nerve agent — VX, the same substance Malaysia says was used to assassinate Kim Jong Nam there on Feb. 13.

In March 1995, months before killing about a dozen commuters and sickening 6,300 in Tokyo with evaporating sarin, Aum had tried using VX on at least three people. One, whom the cult suspected was a police informant, was killed.

In court, members said they practiced using syringes to spray the world’s deadliest nerve agent on people’s necks while jogging. The suspected informant spent 10 days in a coma before dying.

Hiroyuki Nagaoka, 78, one of the two survivors, told NHK on Friday that the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother reminded him of his own experience.

Nagaoka was walking on the sidewalk in his neighborhood in Tokyo in January 1995 when one of the cultists sprayed VX onto the back of his neck. Most of it was blocked by his jacket collar.

“I had no idea what had happened at that time,” he said.

Nagaoka was targeted because he was a vocal opponent of the doomsday cult and helped members leave it. His son used to be a member.

He finished walking home but about half an hour later realized everything seemed to be oddly dark — the toxin was causing his pupils to shrink. He then started feeling hot inside and, sweating profusely, took off his clothes.

His wife later told him that he got down on all fours like an animal, twisting and scratching his neck and chest, before rolling onto his back in pain and losing consciousness.

Nagaoka was rushed to a hospital and was unconscious for two weeks.

“I was saved by the collar of the jacket I was wearing,” he told NHK after hearing that Malaysian officials said they suspected VX of being used to kill Kim in Kuala Lumpur.

According to court documents, two trained chemists who had joined the cult developed the VX in a customized lab in the summer of 1994. They initially wanted to produce 1 kg (2.2 pounds) but succeeded in making only about 70 grams (2.5 ounces).

Within the cult, it was called jintsuriki (divine power), the documents said.

Aum Shinrikyo had an antidote but it is not clear from court documents whether any of them were exposed.

More than 20 years after the attack, Nagaoka still has numbness on the right side of his body and uses an oxygen tube in his nostrils to assist with breathing.

Nagaoka said when he saw Kim Jong Nam in an airport surveillance video walking unassisted for a while but gradually slowing down, he thought it must have been VX.

He also said Kim might have been sweating heavily just like he was in 1995, after seeing the wet spots on Kim’s shirt when he was shown slumped in a chair.

Anthony Tu, professor emeritus at Colorado State University and an expert on chemical and biological weapons who helped investigate the Aum subway gas attack, said if the perpetrators had attacked Kim with their bare hands, they, too, might have been affected by the VX since it is absorbed by the skin.

Since the Aum Shinrikyo attack, Tu said he hasn’t come across any other cases in which VX gas was sprayed on a human being.