UK races to find source of nerve agent in ex-Russian spy attack

LONDON: British detectives on Thursday scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the “brazen and reckless” attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday.
Interior Minister Amber Rudd on Thursday told MPs that Britain would do “all we can to bring the perpetrators to justice, whoever they are and wherever they may be,” as media and politicians pointed the finger at Russia, sparking an angry response in Moscow.
Rudd called the attack “brazen and reckless” and “attempted murder in the most cruel and public way”. She said Britain “will act without hesitation as the facts become clearer”.
A policeman also fell ill after coming to their aid and remains in a serious but stable condition and is “conscious, talking and is engaging,” Rudd added.
On Wednesday, British police confirmed for the first time that a nerve agent was used and that their probe was now an attempted murder investigation.
“Police are now in a position to confirm that their symptoms are a result of exposure to a nerve agent,” said the Metropolitan Police.
“Scientific tests by government experts have identified the specific nerve agent used which will help identify the source.”
The Times newspaper reported on Thursday that Skripal’s condition was particularly severe, quoting a senior unnamed British government official.
“The feeling is that he is not going to make it out of this,” the source said. “I think it could be more positive (for Yulia).” Police have cordoned off an Italian restaurant and a pub that the pair are believed to have visited.
A diner in the restaurant told the Times that Skripal had eaten there on Sunday and that he was in an agitated state.
“He was going absolutely crazy, I didn’t understand it and couldn’t understand them,” the witness said.
“He didn’t seem ill physically but perhaps mentally ill with the way he was shouting.”
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.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told British television on Thursday that Russia was “becoming an ever-greater threat”. — AFP