The two men identified by police who could face ‘conspiracy to murder’ charges over the Salisbury poisonings are Russian spies, Theresa May has said.
The Prime Minister told MPs that suspects are members of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, and were working according to the instructions of the Russian Government.
“Based on a body of intelligence the Government has concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers of the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU,” Mrs May said.
“The GRU is a highly-disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command. So this was not a rogue operation.
“It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”
Police and prosecutors named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as the suspects today, and said there’s ‘sufficient evidence’ to charge both after the attacks on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.
The duo, both aged around 40, could also face the same charge over the poisoning of Wiltshire Police detective sergeant Nick Bailey.
Police today also released pictures of a fake perfume bottle and box, thought to have been used in the fatal Novichok poisoning of Dawn Sturgess four months later.
Police confirmed today that they are have now linked the attack on the Skripals to events in Amesbury less than four months later, and are working with the Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges relating to the death of Ms Sturgess.
Metropolitan Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the two suspects were likely travelling under aliases and Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.
Prosecutors will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, but a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained.
Minutes after the new details emerged, however, Russian government officials claimed the two names ‘meant nothing to Moscow’.
Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in March by the nerve agent Novichok.
Detectives believe the front door of Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home was contaminated with the military-grade substance on Sunday March 4.
Mr Basu said CCTV shows the two suspects in the vicinity of the property on that date.
Hours later, the men left the UK on a flight from Heathrow to Moscow – two days after they had arrived at Gatwick.
Mr Basu said: “We have no evidence that they re-entered the UK after that date.”
In the second incident, Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 48, were exposed to the same nerve agent used in Salisbury. Ms Sturgess died in hospital in July, just over a week after the pair fell ill.
Mr Basu said: “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.
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A Number 10 spokesman said earlier that Mrs May spoke Donald Trump on Tuesday evening to update him on the latest development.
Dominic Grieve, who chairs the intelligence and security committee, told MPs that Russia is a ‘gangster organisation’.
He said: “[Theresa May] is absolutely right in her identification of the Russian state. What we are at the moment is the victim of state terrorism by a state which is in fact run as a gangster organisation and which threatens us all and has done it repeatedly on the international stage and is wholly outside the international rules-based system.”