LONDON – A Russian ex-spy and his daughter fighting for their lives in an English hospital were attacked with a nerve agent in a targeted murder attempt, British police said Wednesday.
The case has further strained relations between Russia and Britain, which has said it will respond strongly if the Russian government is linked to the attack. It has overtones of a 2006 fatal attack on a former Russian spy that was blamed on the Kremlin.
In that incident, a radioactive poison was used. The choice of a nerve agent in the latest case follows the use of the banned nerve agent VX to kill the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader last year.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in the southwestern English city of Salisbury on Sunday, triggering a police investigation led by counterterrorism detectives.
“Having established that a nerve agent is the cause of the symptoms leading us to treat this as attempted murder, I can also confirm that we believe that the two people who became unwell were targeted specifically,” Metropolitan Police counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley said.
Police said the two remain in a critical condition.
Police have declined to speculate on who might be behind the attack. The Russian government has denied any involvement in the attack on Skripal, a former Russian agent who had served jail time in his homeland for spying for Britain before being freed in a spy swap.
Rowley said an officer who treated Skripal and his daughter at the scene was in serious condition. He did not provide the officer's name or specifics about his condition.
Rowley didn't say what nerve agent was suspected in the attack. Nerve agents are chemicals that disrupt the messages sent by from the nerves to the body's organs. They can be administered in gas or liquid form, causing symptoms including vomiting, breathlessness, paralysis and often death. Officials have not offered a prognosis for Skripal and his daughter.
Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said there was a low risk to the public.