Skin on Fire: A Firsthand Account of a VX Attack

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Police say that Kim Jong Nam was killed with VX, the same nerve agent the Aum Shinrikyo cult used on Hiroyuki Nagaoka in Japan in 1995:

The first sign that Hiroyuki Nagaoka had been attacked with VX, the nerve agent that Malaysian police say killed Kim Jong Nam, came when the room he was in appeared to go dark.

Mr. Nagaoka then felt an intense burning sensation inside his chest and lungs that quickly spread throughout his body. He dropped to the floor screaming as his wife cried out, “Are you OK?! Are you OK?!”

He tore at his skin, which felt like it had caught fire. His body was soaked in sweat. Soon after he lost consciousness. When he awoke two weeks later in a hospital, Mr. Nagaoka said his wrists were tied to the bed frame to stop his constant thrashing around.

Nerve agents like VX cause muscles to experience constant stimulation.


Mr. Nagaoka, who is now 78, survived in large part because when he was sprayed with VX by religious cult members it landed on the rear of his sweater, below the collar.

He didn’t even notice the attack at the time, the details of which were revealed when the cult members described it at a trial. Mr. Nagaoka was attacked outside his home in Tokyo but continued on to post new-year greeting cards before the agent took effect when he returned home.

Mr. Nagaoka was targeted because he led a support group of parents whose children had become members of the cult, Aum Shinrikyo. Mr. Nagaoka’s son had joined the cult but left it before the attack.

The cult attacked two other men with VX around the same time as Mr. Nagaoka, one of whom died. Cult members sprayed the three men with syringes while pretending to be out jogging.


Mr. Nagaoka, who had to quit his job as an office worker because of harassment by Aum before the attack, also recovered because a doctor at the hospital in Tokyo where he was treated recognized his symptoms after he had treated victims of another Aum attack with a similar nerve agent called sarin in 1994.

Aum Shinrikyo would go on to orchestrate one of the worst terrorist attacks in Japanese history.

On March 20, 1995, five members of the cult boarded three separate subway trains in Tokyo with plastic bags that contained sarin. They punctured the bags with their umbrellas just as the morning rush hour was peaking, killing 13 people and wounding 6,300.

Mr. Nagaoka says his eyesight became weaker after the VX attack and that he continues to experience numbness in his right arm.

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