British police believe they’ve uncovered the source of the deadly nerve agent Novichok, which was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and also led to the death of a woman who was exposed to the agent in June.
Counter-terrorism officers said on Friday that upon searching the house of poisoning victim Charlie Rowley, they came across a small glass bottle. After sending the bottle to Porton Down, Britain’s military research laboratory, it was confirmed that the substance inside was Novichok.
“Further scientific tests will be carried out to try and establish whether it is from the same batch that contaminated Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March — this remains a main line of enquiry for police,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement. “Inquiries are under way to establish where the bottle came from and how it came to be in Charlie’s house.”
Rowley, 45, and his partner, Dawn Sturgess, 44, fell ill after being exposed to the substance in the town of Amesbury, roughly a 20-minute drive from Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned. Despite intensive medical care, Sturgess passed away. Rowley remains critically ill but has regained consciousness.
After the Skripal poisoning in March, British authorities led an exhaustive clean-up operation in Salisbury, including the pub and restaurant the Skripals had visited, the park area where they collapsed, police and ambulance stations used by first responders, and the house of a detective who arrived at the scene.
Neither Rowley or Sturgess were connected in anyway to the Skripals. According to friends of the couple, the pair were known to forage for discarded cigarettes and goods to sell, raising the possibility that they inadvertently found the container used to transport the Novichok.
Nonetheless, their poisoning presented a major headache to British authorities, as it raised the possibility that traces of Novichok had been left around other parts of Salisbury and the surrounding area and had not been decontaminated. The discovery of the bottle, however, could allow detectives to potentially re-trace the route taken by the poisoners and, potentially, help to identify them.
The news comes amid a gathering storm of Russia-related stories encircling President Donald Trump. Trump is currently in the U.K., berating the prime minister and drawing massive protests in London. On Wednesday, he met with NATO officials, demanding that other countries in the alliance more than double their defense spending or risk the U.S. “reassessing” it’s role in the alliance. Trump will head to Helsinki on the Sunday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, fresh from hearing the latest news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 12 Russians for attempting to swing the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.