UK accuses Russian spies of implementing nerve agent attack

"...I can today tell the House that, based on a body of intelligence, the Government has concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service..."

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Image Credit: AP

Recently released photos and CCTV footage depict images of two suspected Russian intelligence agents in the hours prior to a nerve agent attack targeting a former Russian spy and his daughter in England. According to British officials, the two Russian nationals suspected of working for Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the GRU, attempted to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade Novichok nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union.

On Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May issued the following statement: “I would like to update the House on the investigation into the attempted murder of Sergey and Yulia Skripal – and the subsequent poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley earlier this year.

“This was a sickening and despicable act in which a devastatingly toxic nerve agent – known as Novichok – was used to attack our country. It left four people fighting for their lives and one innocent woman dead. And I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with the family of Dawn Sturgess in particular, following their tragic loss.”

On March 4, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury after being poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent. On June 27, Charlie Rowley found a perfume bottle and applicator inside a box in a charity bin. A few days later, Rowley and his partner, Dawn Sturgess, fell ill from Novichok exposure from the contaminated perfume bottle and applicator.

Sturgess never regained consciousness and died in the hospital on July 8.

On Wednesday, the U.K. Metropolitan Police issued a statement: “Over the last six months we have meticulously followed the evidence, working closely with specialist forensic teams and scientists, as we have investigated both the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, and the poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley. Let me be clear, we have no doubt these two incidents are connected and now form one investigation.

“Today’s announcement by the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) marks the most significant development in this investigation. We now have sufficient evidence to bring charges in relation to the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury and domestic and European arrest warrants have been issued for the two suspects. We are also seeking to circulate Interpol Red Notices.”

After reviewing more than 11,000 hours of CCTV footage and taking more than 1,400 statements, British investigators concluded that two Russian nationals traveling under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – names the police believe to be aliases – arrived at Gatwick Airport from Moscow on March 2. Two days later, CCTV footage showed them in the vicinity of Skripal’s house, where they allegedly contaminated the front door with Novichok sprayed from the perfume bottle.

Besides releasing images and a detailed timeline of the two suspected GRU agents, police also revealed that traces of the nerve agent were discovered in an East London hotel room where the two men stayed during their two-day trip. Previously serving in the GRU before defecting to the United Kingdom, Sergei Skripal is believed to have been the primary target of their attack.

Addressing the House of Commons on Wednesday, Theresa May stated, “Mr. Speaker, just as the police investigation has enabled the CPS to bring charges against the two suspects, so the Security and Intelligence Agencies have carried out their own investigations into the organization behind this attack.

“Based on this work, I can today tell the House that, based on a body of intelligence, the Government has concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU.

“The GRU is a highly disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command.

“So, this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

In July, twelve GRU agents were indicted by a federal grand jury in the U.S. for participating in a criminal conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including charges of conspiracy to commit computer crimes, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to launder money, and conspiracy to commit computer crimes.

The Russian government has no intention of releasing the suspects into American or British custody through the extradition process.

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