Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

The attempted murders of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, due to poisoning by a nerve agent

March 10, 2018

On Sunday, March 4, 2018, at about 4:15 p.m., Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were found unconscious on a park bench at Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.  They were poisoned by some kind of nerve agent.  An investigation is underway into their attempted murder.  A policeman, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, became ill while attending the victims.

As of March 10, Mr. Skripal, 66, and Ms. Skripal, 33, were said to be in “critical but stable condition” at Salisbury District Hospital.  Mr. Bailey was said to be “seriously ill” but awake and engaging with his family.

Before Mr. and Ms. Skripal were found unconscious they were together about 1:40 p.m. at Bishop’s Mill pub having a drink and about 2:20 p.m. at Zizzi, an Italian restaurant.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd described the poisonings as brazen, reckless and cruel and promised to “act without hesitation as the facts become clearer.”  Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism operations, said the Skripals had been “targeted specifically.”

The UK accused Russia as being responsible for the poisonings.  Russia denied the accusations.

“Sooner or later these unsubstantiated allegations will have to be answered for, either backed up with appropriate evidence or apologized for,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin.

Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said the probable sources of the nerve agent could be Great Britain itself as well as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and the United States.  Ms. Zakharova said these countries have been researching toxic substances.

More than 250 counter-terrorism are involved in the investigation. About 180 military personnel were deployed to help remove vehicles and objects which may have been contaminated.

Mr. Skripal was once convicted by the Russian government of passing secrets to M16.  After being imprisoned he was given refuge in the United Kingdom as part of a “spy swap.”  UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that the UK will respond “robustly” if Moscow is found to be behind the incident.  Russia has denied any involvement.  The country’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Russia was willing to assist in the investigation but the UK had did not ask them to assist.  He dismissed rumors of Russia’s involvement as “hysteria” and “propaganda.”

Mr. Skripal was born in Kaliningrad in 1951.  He joined the elite Soviet airborne troop known as the Desantniki.  In 1979, Mr. Skripal was one of the first Soviet troops to go into Afghanistan. He later graduated from the Diplomatic Military Academy in Moscow and joined the GRU — Russia’s military intelligence agency.  He had two postings in Europe as a spy in the 1980s and the 1990s.  In 1999 or 2000 he quit the GRU allegedly because he was upset with corruption. He then was believed to have gone to work for Boris Gromov, who was the last commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan.  Mr. Skripal then settled into normal family life.  He had married a woman named Liudmila, his teenage sweetheart, in June 1972. A son, Alexander (known as Sasha) was born in 1974 and a daughter, Yulia, was born in 1984.

The Skripals’ family life was disrupted in December 2004, when Mr. Skripal was arrested for spying.  He was swiftly convicted in a trial that was closed to media and was sentenced to 13 years in a labor camp but spent most of his sentence in Mordovia.

Mr. Skripal was released from prison in July 2010 as part of a major spy swap — he was one of four spies released by Russia for 10 Russian agents imprisoned in the UK.  Mr. Skripal was then reunited with his wife.  They decided to make their home in Salisbury.  In 2011, Liudmila was diagnosed with cancer and she died on Oct. 23, 2012.  In July 2017, son Sasha died at age 43 in St. Petersburg while on a holiday with his girlfriend.  Sasha’s death was somewhat suspicious.  It was said that he died of sudden liver failure.

Ms. Skripal was a top student at school and attended Russian State University for the Humanities, where she studied geography.  After graduation from the university, she went to work at Nike’s Moscow branch, leaving in 2010.  After her father was released from prison she lived in England and worked at the Holiday Inn in Southampton.  She is fluent in English, Spanish and Russian.  She returned to Moscow in 2014 but would regularly visit her father in England.  Ms. Skripal arrived in London on March 3, 2018 on a flight from Moscow.

UPDATE: Sergei Skripal was discharged from the hospital in Salisbury, it was announced by the hospital on May 18, 2018.  His daughter, Yulia, was released from the hospital the previous month.  Detectives with London’s Metropolitan Police believe the Skripals first came into contact with a nerve agent at Mr. Skripal’s home.

“I think that if a military-grade poisonous substance was used, as our British colleagues claim, this person would’ve died right there of the spot,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin.  “A military-grade poisonous substance is so powerful that the person dies within seconds or minutes.”

Mr. Putin added: “We repeatedly offered UK authorities our help, and we asked to be given access to the investigation, but there is no response.  Our offer stands.”

Russia has consistently denied allegations that it was behind the poisoning.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed the UK’s findings that the Novichok was used in the attack.  Novichok agents act by inhibiting the enzyme cholinesterase.  It has been engineered to be undetectable by standard detection equipment and to defeat standard chemical protective gear.  Novichok agents may be dispersed as an ultra-fine powder as opposed to a gas or a vapor.  It is reported to be 5-8 times more lethal than VX nerve agent and effects are rapid, usually within 30 seconds to two minutes.

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