The Skripal suspects’ ‘sightseeing’ trip to Salisbury

Luke Harding writes:

The two men were dressed inconspicuously in jeans, fleece jackets and trainers as they boarded the flight from Moscow to Gatwick. Their names, according to their Russian passports, were Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Both were around 40 years old. Neither looked suspicious.

The plane trundled down the icy runway. In Moscow the temperatures had fallen below -10C, not unusual for early March. In Britain it had been snowing. The pair had brought woolly hats. They had also packed a bottle of what appeared to be the Nina Ricci perfume Premier Jour. The box it came in was prettily decorated with flowers, it listed ingredients including alcohol and it bore the words “Made in France”.

According to the Metropolitan police, the bottle in fact contained novichok, a lethal nerve agent developed in the late Soviet Union. The bottle had been specially made to be leakproof and had a customised applicator. Moscow’s notorious poisons factory run by the KGB made similar devices throughout the cold war.

Petrov and Boshirov were aliases, detectives believe. Both men are suspected to be career officers with the GRU, Russia’s powerful and highly secretive military intelligence service. The GRU is separate from the FSB and sometimes a rival to it. It is the agency the FBI has said hacked Democratic party emails during the 2016 presidential election.

The officers’ assignment was covert. They were coming to Britain not as tourists but as assassins. Their target was Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who spied for British intelligence, got caught and was freed in a spy exchange in 2010. They were heading for his home in provincial Salisbury. [Continue reading…]

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