Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 1 News List

UK police probe fears poisoning of ex-double agent

DEJA VU:The incident is reminiscent of ex-spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvineko’s poisoning, which a probe determined was likely ordered by Putin

AFP, SALISBURY, England

A road is blocked yesterday near a police tent in a shopping center in Salisbury, England, near where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was found critically ill due to exposure to an unknown substance on Sunday.

Photo: AP

British police yesterday raced to identify an unknown substance that has left a former Russian double agent fighting for his life, as Moscow said it had no information about the “tragic” incident.

Specialist officers from the counterterrorism squad were helping the investigation into the collapse of Sergei Skripal on Sunday, which has sparked fears of a poison plot.

Media reports named the 66-year-old, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, as the man found unconscious on a bench in a shopping center in the southwestern English city of Salisbury.

Police said a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s found with him are being treated for “suspected exposure to an unknown substance” and are in critical condition in intensive care.

A “major incident” was declared and the area remained cordoned off yesterday, while a restaurant on a street nearby, Zizzi, was also closed as a “precaution.”

London Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner for Special Operations Mark Rowley said specialist members of his team were supporting the investigation.

“Clearly, it’s a very unusual case and the critical thing is to get to the bottom of what has caused this incident as quickly as possible,” he told BBC radio.

Local police said they are keeping “an open mind.”

Skripal was in 2006 sentenced to 13 years in Russian jail for betraying Russian intelligence agents to Britain’s MI6 secret service.

He was pardoned before being flown to Britain as part of a high-profile spy swap between Russia and the US in 2010.

His mysterious collapse has revived memories of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-Russian spy and Kremlin critic was who poisoned in 2006 with radioactive polonium in London.

A British inquiry ruled in 2016 that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” the killing and identified two Russians, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, as the prime suspects.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov yesterday said that Russia has no information on the Salisbury incident.

“We see that such a tragic situation happened, but we don’t have information about what could be the cause, what this person did,” he said.

London had not made any requests for assistance in the investigation, he said, but added: “Moscow is always ready for cooperation.”

Lugovoi, who is a lawmaker in the Russian legislature, responded to the British media reports by saying that Britain “suffers from phobias.”

“Because of the presidential elections [on March 18], our actions in Syria, the situation with Skripal could be spun into an anti-Russian provocation,” he told the Interfax news agency.

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