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British investigators: Russian spy, daughter were poisoned

The Washington Post

March 07. 2018 9:03PM

LONDON — British police said Wednesday that a former Russian double agent and his daughter who are fighting for their lives in a British hospital were “targeted specifically” with a nerve agent.

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent,” said Mark Rowley, who heads Britain’s counterterrorism policing.

“We believe that the two people originally who became unwell were targeted specifically,” he added.

Rowley also said that a police officer, one of the first on the scene, was in serious condition in hospital.

On Sunday afternoon, Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the center of Salisbury, a cathedral city about 90 miles southwest of London. The two were rushed to a hospital, where they remain critically ill.

Skripal, a former Russian spy, was jailed in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain.

He was released in 2010 as part of a high-profile spy swap.

Police did not specify what nerve agent they think was used or how it was administered. Because nerve agents are complex to make, they are typically not made by individuals.

“It’s what we call a state-level weapon. It’s difficult to make unless you have large laboratories you’d expect to be associated with countries,” said Malcolm Sperrin, a medical physics expert.

British police stressed Wednesday that there was a low risk to the wider public in connection with the Salisbury incident but added that specialist officers in protective clothing would be continuing their work in the city.

The incident threatens to ratchet up tensions between Britain and Russia. On Tuesday, the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said that the Skripal case had “echoes” of what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB operative who British officials believe was poisoned in London by Russian agents.

Responding to a question about the case, the Russian Embassy in London said it had received no information about the substance of the case and criticized Johnson’s response as “strongly anti-Russian.”

The police also appealed to members of the public who had visited Salisbury town center on Sunday afternoon, including the Zizzi restaurant and Bishop’s Mill pub, which the two Russians reportedly visited.

“Our role now of course is to establish who is behind this and why they carried out this act,” Rowley said.

General News Manchester

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