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UK scientists unable to prove nerve agent was Russian-made

Analysts had identified it as military-grade Novichok, but they had not proved it was made in Russia.

Members of the emergency services in green biohazard encapsulated suits following the attack on Sergei Skripal.
Members of the emergency services in green biohazard encapsulated suits following the attack on Sergei Skripal.
Image: AFP/Getty Images

THE HEAD OF the British military facility analysing the Novichok nerve agent used to poison Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter said it has “not verified the precise source” of the substance.

Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Porton Down defence laboratory, told Sky News that analysts had identified it as military-grade Novichok, but they had not proved it was made in Russia.

“We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions,” he said.

“It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is, we identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured.”

Aitkenhead added that “extremely sophisticated methods” were needed to create the nerve agent, and that was “something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter have been in hospital since last month after the poisoning in Britain that London and its major Western allies have blamed on Russia.

The first use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II has chilled Moscow’s relations with the West, as both sides have expelled scores of diplomats.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the incident, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday suggesting that the British government may be behind the poisoning to distract attention from problems around Brexit.

Aitkenhead would not comment on whether Porton Down had developed or keeps stocks of Novichok, but he dismissed claims the agent used to poison the Skripals had come from the site.

“There is no way anything like that could have come from us or left the four walls of our facility,” he said.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world’s chemical watchdog, will meet Wednesday to discuss Britain’s allegations that Russia was responsible for the poisoning, according to documents released on Tuesday.

It said Russia asked the OPCW, which has received samples of the Novichok used that it has been analysing, for the meeting.

The 4 March attack on Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury has triggered a wave of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats between the West and Russia and sent relations plunging to new post-Cold War lows.

© AFP 2018

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