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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Russian spies were arrested in Holland earlier this year

The two men were thought to be planning to spy on a Swiss laboratory

The Russian national was attending a two-day conference. Getty
The Russian national was attending a two-day conference. Getty

Two Russian agents were arrested in Holland earlier this year for planning to spy on a Swiss chemical and biological weapons laboratory that is investigating the poison attack on Russian former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal in the English town of Salisbury.

The pair were detained in Holland in spring, and later expelled back to Russia, the NRC Handelsblad and Tages Anzeiger newspapers reported. Anonymous sources said espionage equipment was found during the arrest.

The Spiez Laboratory is an accredited testing laboratory which analyses samples for the presence of chemical warfare agents and related chemicals. It has a close relationship with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is headquartered in The Hague, near where the two men were detained.

"We had several indications that there were some hacking attempts during the last few months,” including attempts to plant malware that would spread to other labs, Andreas Bucher, a spokesman for the Spiez Laboratory, said by telephone. “But we were not compromised.”

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The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) told Tages Anzeiger that authorities are "aware of the case of the Russian spies who were discovered in The Hague and then taken away".

NDB communications chief Isabelle Graber added: "The NDB has actively participated in this operation, together with its Dutch and British partners." This has contributed to the "prevention of illegal actions against a critical Swiss infrastructure".

This wasn’t the first time the Spiez Laboratory has been targeted due to its role in the nation’s civil defence network. In June, it announced an attempt to spread malware to attendees of a chemical and biological warfare conference had been mounted by hackers using a fake Spiez email address. The hackers are thought to have Russian connections.

News of the arrests comes after it emerged last weekend that Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, the men suspected of carrying out the Salisbury nerve agent attack, made at least six trips to Geneva between November 2017 and February 2018.

Tages-Anzeiger reported last week that the two Russians who carried out the Salisbury attack made repeated trips through Geneva.