Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive to begin work at the scene of the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, Britain, on March 21 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive to begin work at the scene of the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, Britain, on March 21 2018. Picture: REUTERS

London — British prosecutors said on Wednesday that they have obtained a European arrest warrant for two Russians blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former spy in the city of Salisbury.

Police identified Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as the men who tried to kill former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with novichok in March.

The Russian foreign ministry said the names meant nothing to Moscow, Reuters cited the RIA news agency as saying.

The UK’s crown prosecution service (CPS) said it would not apply for their extradition, as Russia had made clear in previous cases that it did not extradite its nationals.

"We have, however, obtained a European arrest warrant," said CPS director of legal services, Sue Hemming. "[This] means that if either man travels to a country where [such a warrant] is valid, they will be arrested and face extradition on these charges for which there is no statute of limitations."

Assistant commissioner Neil Basu of London’s Metropolitan Police, Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer, said the two men were believed to be in their 40s. "It is likely that they were travelling under aliases and that these are not their real names," he said, adding that photos were being released of the men in the hope that a member of the public would recognise them.

The CPS said the pair faced charges of conspiracy to murder Skripal, and the attempted murder of Skripal, his daughter and Nick Bailey, a policeman injured in the attack. They are also accused of using a banned chemical weapon and causing grievous bodily harm to Yulia Skripal and Bailey.

Skripal was a colonel in Russian military intelligence, who was jailed for betraying agents to Britain’s MI6 security service. He moved to England in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

The nerve agent was believed to have been smeared on the front door of his house in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. London blamed the Russian state for the attack, but Moscow strongly denied any involvement. The incident sparked a diplomatic row that led to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between Britain and its allies and Russia, while the US also imposed sanctions.

The Skripals and Bailey both recovered, but on June 30, a British couple fell ill from the same type of nerve agent in the nearby town of Amesbury. One of them, mother of three Dawn Sturgess, died on July 8. Her partner Charlie Rowley was discharged, although he later went back to hospital and is currently being treated for meningitis and loss of eyesight.

On Tuesday, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a global watchdog, confirmed that novichok was involved in their poisoning.

Police said on Wednesday that their case is now part of the Skripal investigation. "We do not believe Dawn and Charlie were deliberately targeted, but became victims as a result of the recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of," Basu said.

Novichok is a military-grade nerve agent developed by the then Soviet Union during the Cold War.

AFP

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