UK preparing to ask Moscow for Novichok suspects

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury. (AFP pic)

LONDON: The British government is preparing to ask Moscow to extradite two Russian citizens suspected of carrying out the Salisbury nerve agent attack, a media report said Monday.

The Guardian newspaper, citing unnamed government and security sources, said state prosecutors had prepared the extradition request and were ready to file it to Moscow.

It said police and intelligence agents had identified two Russians believed to have carried out the attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

The pair were poisoned by Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, in the southwestern English city of Salisbury.

Both survived, but on June 30 a British couple were poisoned by Novichok in a nearby town, one of whom, 44-year-old mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, subsequently died.

London and its allies have accused Moscow of trying to kill the Skripals and says the two cases are likely linked.

Russia has angrily rejected any involvement, plunging diplomatic relations into crisis.

Any extradition request put to Russia is likely to be rebuffed, and The Guardian said there had been intense debate within the British government about whether to bother trying.

In 2007, after Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko was murdered with polonium in London, Moscow refused Britain’s request to extradite two Russian suspects in the case.

England’s state prosecutors, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), declined to comment on The Guardian’s story when contacted by AFP, while police said only that the investigation was ongoing.

Britain’s domestic Press Association news agency reported last month that police had identified two Russian suspects in the Salisbury attack, but there has been no official confirmation of this.

An unnamed government source told The Guardian: “The CPS has been asked to prepare extradition requests and we understand they are ready to go.

“This is Litvinenko all over again. It’s almost a rerun of the situation. The police have managed to identify the people coming over and going back again.”

Police believe the Novichok was smeared on the door of Sergei Skripal’s house and perhaps discarded in a container that Sturgess’s boyfriend Charlie Rowley then picked up.

Rowley said he had found a perfume bottle which he gave to Sturgess, which she sprayed on her wrists. She died eight days later, but he has since been released from hospital.