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UK charges two Russians in absentia in nerve agent attack

Updated September 06, 2018

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LONDON: Britain deepened its diplomatic feud with Moscow on Wednesday, charging two men it says are Russian military intelligence officers with the nerve-agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a double agent who betrayed the service by spying for the West.

But UK authorities acknowledged there was little chance Russia would hand over the suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, to face justice in Britain.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the use of a chemical weapon in the city of Salisbury, which left a British woman dead and four people, including Skripal and his daughter, seriously ill, was carried out by officers of the GRU intelligence service and almost certainly approved “at a senior level of the Russian state.” “This was not a rogue operation,” she told lawmakers after police released photos of the suspects as they traveled through London and Salisbury before flying back to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4, hours after the Skripals were poisoned.

Moscow strongly denies involvement in the attack, and Russian officials said they did not recognize the suspects.

Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service said the UK wouldn’t ask Moscow to hand the men over because Russian law forbids extradition of its citizens. Britain has obtained domestic and European arrest warrants for the suspects, meaning they can be detained if they leave Russia for another European country.

Police say Petrov and Boshirov, both about 40, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned. Basu said the passports were genuine but the names were probably aliases, and appealed to the public to help identify the men.

Police revealed that traces of Novichok were found at a hotel in London’s east end where the men spent two nights. Police believe the nerve agent was smuggled to Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle and sprayed on the front door of Sergei Skripal’s house.

More than three months later, the bottle was found by a local man, 48-year-old Charlie Rowley. He was hospitalized and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after being exposed to the contents.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2018