British officials announced on Wednesday that they are investigating whether attackers dropped multiple, hidden amounts of the deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok around an English town as part of a plot to poison former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.
The Skripals were found on March 4 slumped on a bench in Sergei’s hometown of Salisbury, England. The two had been poisoned by the military-grade chemical weapon, but later regained consciousness and recovered in an unknown location. Britain and its NATO allies have banded together to blame Russia for the attack.
New revelation that there could be more Novichok in the otherwise quiet town comes as a man who was poisoned by the same agent near Salisbury a few weeks ago told the press he came across the nerve agent in a labeled cellophane-wrapped box. containing a bottle that he thought was full of perfume. The victim in that case, Charlie Rowley, 45, did not reveal – or remember – exactly where he had found the box. He said he gifted it to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, on June 30, who recognized the branding on the box.
Rowley reported placing a pump dispenser on the bottle and spilling some of the oily liquid on his hands in the process. Though he said the liquid didn’t smell of perfume, he washed it off without thinking and gave it to Sturgess, his two-year-old girlfriend. The 44-year-old squirted the liquid onto her wrists and rubbed them together. Within 15 minutes, she had a headache and went to take a bath, Rowley said. He discovered her in the bath shortly afterwards, fully clothed and in a “very sick condition”.
Both were later found unconscious and taken to hospital. Rowley has since recovered, but Sturgess died of the poisoning more than a week later, on July 8.
“What we can’t say, and probably never will say, is that there’s actually something else out there,” Wiltshire Police Deputy Chief Paul Mills said at a news conference Wednesday. “So all we can do is be intelligence-led … and be meticulous in the search,” he added.
Last week, media reports indicated that British police had identified two suspects in the Skripal poisoning case. Now authorities are considering whether there was a second “drop team” that left multiple sources of the Novichok nerve gas in the area for attackers to use.
According to reports by The New York TimesBritish authorities believe the suspects may have links to the GRU (the Russian military’s foreign intelligence organization) so far. Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice released an indictment accusing 12 GRU intelligence officers of carrying out the 2016 hacks on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.