British authorities have charged two Russian men with using a Novichok nerve agent to poison former KGB spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Scotland Yard now wants help to find the two men, who flew from the U.K. to Moscow on the same day the Skripals fell ill.
Calling it “the most significant moment so far” in the investigation into the Skripals’ near-fatal encounter with the exotic poison, counter-terrorism police said the attack was carried out by Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — names that investigators say are likely aliases used for the operation.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia’s government of being behind the attack on the former spy and his daughter. The new details from police outline a brief international trip by the two suspects, who landed at the Gatwick airport from Moscow on March 2.
Over the course of two days, the men traveled from London to Salisbury, England, twice — once to perform reconnaissance around the Skripals’ home, and again to put lethal poison on their front door, police say. Hours after their final visit, they took a late-night flight back to Moscow on March 4.
“We have no evidence that they re-entered the UK after that date,” said Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, of the counter-terrorism force.
Both of the Skripals survived, but in what police call a tragic consequence of the attack, Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three, died on July 8 after being exposed to the same nerve agent.
In Salisbury — the town where the Skripals were found incapacitated on a bench on March 4 — police officer Nick Bailey was left seriously ill after being exposed to the deadly material. The current charges relate to his and the Skripals’ case.
Sturgess and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, fell ill in Amesbury, England. Providing new information about the Sturgess case, police say that while they’re not certain how the suspects disposed of the poisonous material before leaving the U.K., “a significant amount of Novichok” was found in a bottle in Rowley’s home. It had been held in a pink box, falsely labeled as Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume.
“Charlie told police he found a box he thought contained perfume in a charity bin on Wednesday, 27 June,” Assistant Commissioner Basu said. “Inside the box was a bottle and applicator. He tried to put the two parts together at his home address on Saturday, 30 June, and in doing so got some of the contents on himself. He said Dawn had applied some of the substance to her wrists before feeling unwell.”
The perfume packaging was bogus — and the bottle and nozzle had been “especially adapted,” Basu said. The result, he said, was “a perfect cover for smuggling the weapon into the country, and a perfect delivery method for the attack against the Skripal’s front door.”
British police are publicly naming the two suspects one day after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it had corroborated the U.K. investigation’s findings that “the same toxic chemical” was responsible for the attack in Salisbury and for Sturgess’s death in Amesbury.
In May, two months after the attack, Yulia Skripal said that she and her father are “so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination,” despite ongoing health concerns and medical complications from the attack.
Sergei Skripal had been a double-agent for Britain’s MI6 intelligence service. He was eventually arrested in Russia — but he was freed in a prisoner swap in 2010, and has become a U.K. citizen.
The U.S. and other U.K. allies have imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the poisoning.