British police hunt culprit in Russian ex-spy’s poisoning
LONDON – Agence France-Presse
British detectives were scrambling on March 8 to uncover who poisoned a Russian former double-agent and his daughter with a nerve agent, as doctors battled to save their lives and that of a policeman who also fell ill after coming to their aid.
The brazen poisoning in the southwestern English city of Salisbury is already being linked with Russia by British politicians and the media, sparking an angry response in Moscow.
On March 7, British police confirmed for the first time that a nerve agent was used and that their probe was now an attempted murder investigation.
“Sadly, in addition, a police officer, who was one of the first to attend the scene is now also in a serious condition in hospital,” Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters.
Scientific tests by government experts have identified the specific nerve agent used “which will help identify the source”, he added, declining to reveal the exact substance.
British media reports suggest the three victims are seriously ill.
Britain’s Sky News, quoting sources, said all three victims are in a coma.
The Times newspaper, quoting a senior unnamed British government official, said Skripal’s condition was thought to be particularly severe.
“The feeling is that he is not going to make it out of this,” the source told the newspaper.
“I think it could be more positive [for Yulia]. They are hopeful that she might be able to pull through.”
The paper added that the police officer’s condition was thought to be “less severe.
”Other emergency services personnel who treated the pair required medical treatment at the time but have not been admitted to hospital.
Interior minister Amber Rudd called for “cool heads” over the poisoning amid swirling speculation.
Police say they are keeping an open mind about what happened, but Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has alluded to Russia.
He noted the “echoes” with the 2006 poisoning in London of former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, which Britain has blamed on Russia.
Moscow accused British politicians and journalists of whipping up anti-Russian sentiment, with Kremlin foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova telling reporters the story “was straight away used to boost an anti-Russian campaign in the media”.
Zakharova earlier said Johnson’s comments were “wild”.
Meanwhile, hundreds of counter-terrorism detectives are working “around the clock” to create a timeline of the victims’ movements, with “many hours” of CCTV under review, police said.Investigators believe Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter were in Salisbury city center for several hours before they were found slumped on a bench.
They reportedly had lunch at a pizza restaurant, Zizzi, and visited a pub in Salisbury before being discovered outside the shopping center, where onlookers said they appeared “out of it.”
An anonymous witness who was in the pub, which has been closed by police, told the BBC on March 7 that Skripal was there behaving erratically and at one point shouting loudly.
Rowley appealed for information from those in Salisbury on March 4.“Your memory of that afternoon and your movements alone could help us with missing pieces of the investigation,” he said.