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Monday, March 12, 2018, 16:27
UK lawmaker says spy poisoning looks to be 'state-sponsored'
By Associated Press
Monday, March 12, 2018, 16:27 By Associated Press

A police tent is framed by police tape covering the the spot where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found critically ill Sunday following exposure to an "unknown substance" in Salisbury, England, on March 7, 2018. (MATT DUNHAM / AP)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May was scheduled to update lawmakers Monday on the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and a senior lawmaker said he expects her to blame the Russian government.

Tom Tugendhat, who chairs Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee, said the case is "looking awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder."

He told the BBC he expected May to direct blame "toward the Russian state." The difficulty of manufacturing and transporting highly dangerous nerve agents is one of the elements pointing to state backing of the attack, Tungendhat said.

British officials have said the risk to the public is low, but urged people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or the Mill pub to wash their clothes and take other precautions

May chaired a National Security Council meeting Monday to hear the latest evidence in the case. She was under mounting pressure to hit Russia with sanctions, diplomatic expulsions and other measures in response to the poisoning, the latest in a string of mysterious mishaps to befall Russians in Britain in recent years.

ALSO READ: UK to 'act against nerve agent attackers' once facts known

May's office said she would make a statement in the House of Commons late Monday afternoon, but gave no indication of what she would say.

Spokesman James Slack said, "It is important that we allow the police to get on with their work, that we gather all the evidence and if we get to a position when we are able to attribute this attack then we will do so and the government will deliver an appropriate response."

Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, remain in critical condition following the March 4 nerve agent attack. A police detective who came in contact with them is in serious condition, but is reported by British officials to be sitting up and talking.

Authorities haven't said what nerve agent was used.

The case has similarities to the killing of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive tea in London in 2006. A British inquiry concluded that his death was the work of the Russian state and had probably been authorized by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin has rejected suggestions that it's behind the poisoning.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Sergei Skripal worked for British intelligence and was poisoned on British soil, and therefore the incident "has nothing to do with Russia, let alone the Russian leadership." Peskov also said the Kremlin hasn't heard any official statements of Russian involvement.

Skripal was a Russian military intelligence officer when he was recruited to spy for Britain in the 1990s. He was jailed in Russia in 2006 for revealing state secrets before being freed in a spy swap in 2010. He had settled in the cathedral city of Salisbury, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of London.

He and his daughter were found comatose on a bench near the city center after visiting an Italian restaurant and a pub.

Almost 200 troops, including soldiers trained in chemical warfare and decontamination, have been deployed to Salisbury to assist the police investigation into where the nerve agent came from and how it was delivered.

British officials have said the risk to the public is low, but urged people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or the Mill pub to wash their clothes and take other precautions. Some have questioned why it took health authorities a week to issue the advice.

Andy Harder, 63, who works in a coin and stamp collector's shop in Salisbury, had been in the Mill pub the day after the Skripals were attacked, and before police cordoned off the area.

Harder said he washed his jacket off with an antiseptic cleaner after authorities gave the guidance Sunday.

"So I've washed all my clothes, I've taken my jacket and done that with Dettol — I mean I don't know what to use, really," he said. "That's supposed to kill most things. I've had a good scrub up, so it should be OK."

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