Wiltshire poisoning was Novichok nerve agent: police | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.07.2018
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Wiltshire poisoning was Novichok nerve agent: police

Two people who fell ill at the weekend were poisoned with the nerve agent. Counter-terror police said expert scientists believe it was the same substance that contaminated Yulia and Sergei Skripal.

A couple who fell seriously ill near the English town of Amesbury were poisoned with the same Novichok nerve agent used in the nearby Skripal incident, British counter-terror police have confirmed.

The Skripal case caused a rift between the UK and Russia, after the UK concluded that the nerve agent used was Soviet-made. Moscow denied the claim and the confrontation led to an exchange of diplomat expulsions.

Experts at the nearby Porton Down, Ministry of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) were unclear if the nerve agent was from the "same batch that the Skripals were exposed to," according to the Metropolitan Police's assistant commissioner of specialist operations, Neil Basu.

What we know so far:

  • A 45-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman were found unconscious on Saturday at a house in a quiet neighborhood of Amesbury in the county of Wiltshire, just 12 kilometers (8 miles) from Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned.
  • They are in a critical condition in the same UK hospital where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were treated.
  • Local police have established two help lines to take calls from those who may have concerns about a possible contamination.
  • Police have restricted access to five locations, including a park and a property in Salisbury, and a pharmacy and a community center in Amesbury.

Read more: Skripal poisoning: Germany got Novichok chemical sample from Russia in 1990s

Emergency meeting

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would chair a meeting of the government's emergency committee Cobra on Thursday.  "(This) follows the reckless and barbaric attack which took place in Salisbury in March."

The Met's Basu said there was no indication the couple were deliberately targeted, based on what was known about them. But he said it was unclear how the nerve agent was transmitted. 

England's Chief Medical Officer said the risk to the general public remained low.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the incident was being treated "with the utmost seriousness."

What is Novichok? Novichok is a series of highly toxic nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, which have a slightly different chemical composition than the VX nerve agent and sarin poison gases.

The Skripal case: Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found slumped over a bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury in March. Authorities found they had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in the first known chemical weapons attack on European soil since World War II. Prime Minister Theresa May's government accused Russia of being behind the attack, a charge denied by Moscow, leading to a diplomatic crisis. Both the US and the European Union backed the UK's claim of Russian responsibility.

ng,jm/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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