Fri, Jul 06, 2018 - Page 1 News List

UK urges Russia for attack details after two more affected

Reuters, AMESBURY, England

Police guard the entrance to a housing estate in which two people were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in Amesbury, England, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Britain yesterday called on Russia to provide details about the Novichok nerve agent attack on a former double agent and his daughter after two British citizens were struck down with the same poison.

The two Britons, a 44-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man, were in a critical condition after an apparently chance encounter with the poison near the site of the March attack on Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Britain accused Russia of poisoning the Skripals with Novichok — a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military during the Cold War — in what was the first known offensive use of such a chemical weapon on European soil since World War II.

Russia has denied any involvement in the March incident and suggested that the British security services had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Moscow hysteria.

“The Russian state could put this wrong right. They could tell us what happened, what they did and fill in some of the significant gaps that we are trying to pursue,” British Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime Ben Wallace said. “I’m waiting for the phone call from the Russian state.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he did not know who Wallace is, but added that Russia had offered Britain its assistance in investigating the attack and had been rebuffed.

In the latest twist in one of the most mysterious poisonings in recent years, the two Britons, who became ill on Saturday last week, were initially thought to have overdosed on heroin or crack cocaine.

However, tests by the Porton Down military research center showed that they had been exposed to Novichok.

Britain has notified the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about the poisoning.

It is unclear how the two Britons came into contact with the poison.

“The working assumption would be that these are victims of either the consequences of the previous attack or something else, but not that they were directly targeted,” Wallace said.

Paramedics were on Saturday morning called to a house in Amesbury after the woman, named by media as Dawn Sturgess, collapsed. They returned later in the day when the man, Charlie Rowley, also fell ill.

Amesbury is 11km north of Salisbury, England, where Skripal — a former colonel in the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate who betrayed dozens of agents to the British Secret Intelligence Service — and his daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench on March 4.

The risk to the public is low, health officials said, repeating their earlier advice that the public should wash their clothes and use cleansing wipes on personal items.

However, the exposure of two British citizens to a such a dangerous nerve agent will stoke fears that Novichok could be lingering at sites around the ancient city of Salisbury.

Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London, said Novichok nerve agents were designed to be persistent and do not decompose quickly.

“That means that if a container or a surface was contaminated with this material, it would remain a danger for a long time,” Sella said.

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