LONDON – United Kingdom investigators have been able to uncover some details relating to a substance used in the suspected poisoning of a former Russia spy and his daughter as a British military research establishment examined clues, the government said on Wednesday.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd referred to the alleged poisoning of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Julia, 33, who were both found unconscious on Sunday slumped on a bench in the southern city of Salisbury, as terrible events.
“We need to keep a cool head and collect all the evidence we can,” Rudd said. “We need to make sure that we respond not to rumor but to all the evidence they collect and then we will have to decide what action to take,” she added.
Both the alleged victims of poisoning remain in critical condition in an intensive care ward at the Salisbury Hospital, according to a Wiltshire police official statement.
The police said that the Counter-Terrorism unit of London’s Metropolitan Police would lead the investigation due to its “unusual circumstances” and because that section of the force “has the specialist expertise to do so.”
They also said experts from the Ministry of Defence’s top secret Science and Technology Laboratory – commonly known as Porton Down – in Salisbury were analyzing an unidentified substance recovered from the site.
The suspected poisoning has not been declared a “terrorist incident” but British authorities did not discard the possible involvement of Russia, police said.
The UK’s top diplomat Boris Johnson said yesterday that if Russia’s involvement was discovered, the British government would respond “robustly.”
In 2006, Skripal was tried in Russia and awarded a 13-year prison sentence accused of passing names of Russian intelligence agents undercover in Europe to Britain’s foreign intelligence service.
In 2010 he was released in a spy-exchange deal which took place on Vienna’s airport tarmac, in a scene reminiscent of a Cold War spy movie.
Skripal relocated to the UK, leading a quiet life in the cathedral city of Salisbury, until now.
A similar incident took place in November 2006 when former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, died of highly radioactive Polonium poisoning after having tea in a London hotel with two Russian citizens, an inquest found.