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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

UK police ‘identify Russian nerve agent suspects'

Trawl of security footage and flight passenger data leads to apparent breakthrough

Search experts in protective gear examine the home of Dawn Sturgess, who died after being affected by the nerve agent. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
Search experts in protective gear examine the home of Dawn Sturgess, who died after being affected by the nerve agent. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

British police have identified several Russian suspects from security camera footage collected after a nerve agent attack targeting a former double agent that left a woman dead, according to a report Thursday.

Investigators have cross-checked footage from security cameras in the southern English city of Salisbury with aircraft passenger records and are “sure” those behind the attack in March are Russians, according to an unnamed source cited by the domestic Press Association news agency.

Sergei Skripal, 66, his daughter Yulia, 33, have been released from hospital but a woman unconnected with the Skripals died earlier this month after spraying herself unwittingly with the deadly Novichok agent after retrieving a discarded perfume bottle.

Details of the apparent identification of suspects came as an inquest was due to open on Thursday of Dawn Sturgess, 44, who died eight days after coming into contact with Novichok from the same batch used in the attempted murders of the Skripals.

The bottle was found during a search of her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, at his home in Amesbury, some nine miles from the where the Skripals live. He remains in hospital but has been able to tell police what happened.

The pair were known to have travelled to a public park the day before they were stricken which was just a few hundred yards from where Mr Skripal and his daughter were found slumped on a bench in the centre of the small military city in March. They later caught a bus together to Amesbury where they fell ill.

The area where Mr Skripal was found is covered by numerous security cameras installed across the city last year in a £400,000 project. The high-definition footage is sharp enough to identify individual car number plates, council leader Matthew Dean told The National.

“Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time,” the source told PA. “They (the investigators) are sure they (the suspects) are Russian.”

Police were Wednesday carrying out a finger-tip search of the park.

Experts have said that the accidental or deliberate discarding of the bottle was likely a major error, that could potentially tie the assassination team to the attack through DNA retrieved from the bottle.

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Read more:

UK police find source of nerve agent poisoning

UK police hunt nerve agent vial after attack claims first life

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The Metropolitan Police declined to comment on the report on Thursday but the conclusion would back the UK government’s assertion that Russia was behind the attack. Ministers have said Russia’s link to Novichok, the Kremlin’s history of targeted assassinations in the UK – including the murder of former spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 using radioactive material - and the rarity of the nerve agent all signalled Russian state involvement.

The attack resulted in a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats by the UK and its allies and Russia and sent relations between the countries plunging to their worst levels in years. It also prompted the UK to successfully push for changes at the global chemical weapons watchdog that would allow inspectors to attribute blame for attacks using banned substances.

Russia has always denied that Russia was behind the attack. President Vladimir Putin told US broadcaster Fox News this week that unspecified domestic issues could have been responsible for the attack.

“We recently heard that two people suffered,” he said. “I have never even heard the names of these people. What kind of package? What chemical formula? Maybe there is some other reason for death.”