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By Toby Melville
SALISBURY, England (Reuters)

A nerve agent was used to deliberately poison a former Russian double agent and his daughter, Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer said on Wednesday, in a case that threatens to further damage London’s ties with Moscow

Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in the southern English city of Salisbury on Sunday afternoon.

Both remain critically ill and a police officer who attended the scene is also in a serious condition in hospital.

 

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants' cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court
Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants’ cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia. Kommersant/Yuri Senatorov via REUTERS

 

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent,” London Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters. “I can also confirm that we believe the two people originally who became unwell were targeted specifically.”

Rowley said government scientists had identified the specific nerve agent but he would not say what it was because it was part of the investigation. He also declined to give any details about how it was administered to Skripal, 66, and his daughter.

 

 

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley from the Metropolitan Police, together with Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies, make a statement to the press concerning Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, outside Scotland Yard in central London
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley from the Metropolitan Police, together with Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies, make a statement to the press concerning Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia who were poisoned by a nerve agent in the centre of Salisbury, outside Scotland Yard in central London, Britain, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

 

England’s chief medical officer said the incident posed a low risk to the wider public but anyone feeling unwell was advised to seek medical advice.

While Rowley would not say any more about the investigation, a U.S. security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the main line of police inquiry was that Russians may have used the substance against Skripal in revenge for his treachery.

 

Police officers stand outside a pub near to where former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury
Police officers stand outside a pub near to where former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

 

Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest by Russian authorities in 2004.

He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006 after a secret trial and in 2010 was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies caught in the West as part of a Cold War-style spy swap at Vienna airport.

 

 

On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said if Moscow were behind the incident then Britain could look again at sanctions and take other measures to punish Russia, which he cast as a “malign and disruptive” state.

Russia denied any involvement, scolded Johnson for “wild” comments and said anti-Russian hysteria was being whipped up intentionally to damage relations with London.

 

Police officers stand guard in front of a forensics tent in a cordoned off area in the centre of Salisbury
Police officers stand guard in front of a forensics tent in a cordoned off area in the centre of Salisbury, Britain, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

 

“It’s very hard not to assess this (speculation) as provocative black PR designed to complicate relations between our two countries,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday.

 

Keep reading …

 

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