British counter-terror police are investigating the apparent poisoning of a couple by an “unknown substance” just eight miles from where former Russia spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a deadly nerve agent in March.
The pair were found unconscious at a house in Amesbury, Wiltshire Saturday, and were immediately rushed to hospital where they remain in a critical condition. On Wednesday British authorities said that the victims had been exposed to the same nerve agent, Novichok, that was used to poison the Skripals earlier in the year.
Investigators still do not know how the pair — who had spent time at Queen Elizabeth Gardens, near where the Skripals lost consciousness — had come into contact with the Novichok. Metropolitan Police officials are assisting local officers with the investigation, and the British government’s emergency committee, Cobra, said it was treating the incident “with the utmost seriousness”.
The latest poisoning creates a major headache for authorities, as well as the town of Salisbury. When the Skripals were initially poisoned in March, an exhaustive, military-led clean up effort focused on the pub and restaurant they had visited prior to falling ill, the park area where they were found, a car storage facility, stations used by first responders, and the house of a detective who was one of the first at the scene.
The newest development, however, raises the possibility that traces of Novichok were left throughout other parts of Salisbury and the surrounding area — presumably by the persons who carried out the hit on the Skripals.
Officials have again pointed the finger at Russia, who Prime Minister Theresa May officially blamed for the Skripal poisoning earlier in the year. The U.K.’s security minister, Ben Wallace, told the BBC that Russian authorities could help significantly with the investigation by supplying them with information.
"It is highly likely that Russia was responsible" says Theresa May following the nerve agent attack on a former spy in Salisbury and his daughter pic.twitter.com/RS6o5hevaS
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 12, 2018
“The Russian state could put this wrong right,” he said. “They could tell us what happened, what they did and fill in some of the significant gaps we are trying to pursue. We have said they can come and tell us what happened. I’m waiting for the phone call from the Russian state. The offer is there.”
The Kremlin has said however that, while the latest poisonings are “disturbing”, they have not yet received any appeal from the U.K. Other Russian diplomats this week took things a step further, mocking the officials investigating the new poisonings.
“How dumb they think [Russia] is to use ‘again’ so-called ‘Novichok’ in the middle of the FIFA World Cup and after the special session of the CSP,” the Russian embassy in the Netherlands posted on Twitter. “The show must go on?”
Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in South Africa pointed out that Britain’s Porton Down chemical weapons laboratory was located close to Salisbury — implying that the poisoning was actually an accident and cover-up. The Russian Embassy in London, on the other hand, simply spent the morning ridiculing British newspaper reports about how dangerous it would be to travel to Russia for the World Cup.
How dumb they think 🇷🇺 is to use “again” so-called “Novichok” in the middle of the FIFA World Cup and after the special session of the CSP (convened by the way by 🇬🇧) that gave the #OPCW attribution functions. The show must go on? pic.twitter.com/a9FdJceWIv
— Russian Embassy in NL🇷🇺🇳🇱 (@rusembassynl) July 5, 2018
Two British subjects were allegedly poisoned in #Amesbury by "Novichok". Fact: Porton Down military biotech lab capable of producing said nerve agent is in close proximity to both #Salisbury & #Amesbury. Question: What pretext will be invented to lay blame on Russia this time? pic.twitter.com/Ld9eiRsZxX
— Russia in RSA 🇷🇺 (@EmbassyofRussia) July 5, 2018
In response to the Skripal poisoning the British government duly expelled 23 Russian diplomats, and has also begun to crack down on Russian oligarchs who have long used the U.K. (and especially London) to stash their wealth. It remains to be seen, however, whether the U.K. will respond to this latest incident with more retaliatory measures.