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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Novichok poisoning: Russian 'spies' named as suspects in Skripal attack

UK leader Theresa May said two men who carried out the poisoning worked for Russian military intelligence

A photo released by the Metropolitan police showing Alexander Petrov (R) and Ruslan Boshirov (L). EPA
A photo released by the Metropolitan police showing Alexander Petrov (R) and Ruslan Boshirov (L). EPA

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May has said two suspects accused of poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England, worked for Russian military intelligence.

British police released the names and photographs of two Russian nationals believed to have carried out the March attack on Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, on Wednesday.

Mrs May reiterated her government’s assertion, first made back in March, that Russia was responsible for the attack.

She added that the government had since concluded that the men were from the GRU intelligence agency.

“The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command,” she told parliamentarians on Wednesday.

“This was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

The two suspects are believed to have travelled to Britain on authentic Russian passports under the aliases of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Police added that the pair are thought to be “about 40”.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the photos had been released in the hope that a member of the public recognises them.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced on Wednesday that there was now enough evidence to charge the two men Petrov and Boshirov, who are thought to have returned to Russia after the attack.

The charges include conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal and causing grievous bodily harm to Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey, a police officer who fell ill after attending to the Skripals in the aftermath of the incident.

Yulia Skripal and her father have been discharged from hospital.  AFP
Yulia Skripal and her father have been discharged from hospital.  AFP

The CPS said that it would not be applying to have the two suspects extradited from Russia because Moscow does not allow extradition of its nationals.

However, Mrs May said if the men ever leave Russia that Britain will try to have them arrested.

The Kremlin has consistently denied any involvement. The Russian foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the names and photographs of the men released by British police “do not mean anything to Moscow”.

The attack

Six months after Mr Skripal and his daughter were discovered unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, the Metropolitan police have given details of the suspects’ movements before and after the attack

Mr Basu said the two suspects arrived at Gatwick Airport from Moscow on March 2 two days before the poisoning.

A handout picture taken on Fisherton Road in Salisbury shows Alexander Petrov (R) and Ruslan Boshirov. Metropolitan
A handout picture taken on Fisherton Road in Salisbury shows Alexander Petrov (R) and Ruslan Boshirov. Metropolitan

Petrov and Boshirov stayed in Bow, east London for two nights, travelling by train on March 3 to Salisbury for what police believe was a “reconnaissance” trip of the area, returning to London the same day.

The pair went back to Salisbury the next day on March 4, where police believe they contaminated Mr Skripal’s front door with Novichok. CCTV footage shows them in the area around Mr Skripal’s house.

They returned to London after the attack boarding a flight to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4.

Amesbury poisoning

British police also released more information about the Novichok poisoning of two Amesbury residents, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, believed to have been the victims of secondary contamination.

Mr Rowley, 45, and his partner Ms Sturgess, 44, fell ill on June 30 after coming into contact with the substance in a contaminated container, which was labelled as a Nina Ricci perfume.

Ms Sturgess died in hospital just over a week later. Mr Rowley, who was also treated in hospital, has since been discharged.

Dawn Sturgess died in Salisbury hospital, where Sergei and Yulia Skripal had been treated after they were also poisoned by the deadly nerve agent
Dawn Sturgess died in Salisbury hospital, where Sergei and Yulia Skripal had been treated after they were also poisoned by the deadly nerve agent

On Tuesday, the international chemical weapons watchdog confirmed the pair had been poisoned by the same nerve agent used to poison the Skripals.

Mr Rowley told police he found a box containing a perfume bottle and applicator in a charity bin and put the two parts together, spilling some on himself. He later gave the perfume to Ms Sturgess who applied some of it to her wrists.

After investigating the product, Nina Ricci said both the applicator and the bottle are counterfeit. Police could not confirm whether the bottle had been used in both sets of poisonings or where the suspects had disposed of the Novichok used in the Skripal attack.

The counterfeit perfume box discovered by nerve agent victim Charlie Rowley. Metropolitan Police 
The counterfeit perfume box discovered by nerve agent victim Charlie Rowley. Metropolitan Police 

But Mr Basu added that "the manner in which the bottle and packaging has been adapted makes it a perfect cover for smuggling the weapon into the country, and a perfect delivery method for the attack against the Skripal's front door".

He added: "We have now linked the attack on the Skripals and the events in Amesbury which affected Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley.

"It now forms one investigation. We do not believe Dawn and Charlie were deliberately targeted, but became victims as a result of the recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of."

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Read more:

Chemical weapons watchdog confirms Novichok killed Dawn Sturgess

US to impose sanctions on Russia over nerve agent attack

UK police find source of nerve agent poisoning

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