UK: Novichok identified in Amesbury incident

A couple found unconscious last Saturday in the town of Amesbury was exposed to Novichok, a nerve agent British authorities said was used in an attack in Salisbury in March, counterterrorism police said late Wednesday.

In a statement, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the Counter Terrorism Policing Network is now leading the investigation into the incident.

He said test results from the Porton Down defense research laboratory show the two people have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.

The pair -- named as Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, by local media -- were found unconscious at a house in Amesbury in Wiltshire county.

Police in southwest England on Wednesday declared a major incident amid suspicions that the two might have been exposed to an unknown substance.

It was initially believed that the two patients fell ill after using possibly heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch of drugs, said an earlier police statement.

But due to concerns over the symptoms the man and woman were displaying, samples from both patients were sent to Porton Down laboratory Monday for analysis, police said.

Following the detailed analysis of these samples, we can confirm that the man and woman have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, which has been identified as the same nerve agent that contaminated both Yulia and Sergei Skripal, the statement added.

The latest update we have from the hospital is that both patients remain in critical condition. Both are British nationals and are local to the area. Officers are still working to identify their next of kin, it said.

Around 100 detectives are now included in the investigation and a number of sites have been cordoned off.

Salisbury incident

On March 4, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia were admitted to hospital after being found unconscious in Salisbury.

Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, British Prime Minister Theresa May said following the attack.

The incident drew comparisons to the 2006 death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko after he drank radioactive tea. Former KGB bodyguards identified as suspects in the murder denied any involvement.

Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a 2010 spy exchange between the U.S. and Russia. Before the exchange, he had been serving a 13-year prison sentence for leaking information to British intelligence.

Russia missed a deadline set by London to explain how a military-grade nerve agent was used in the attack and faced a global expulsion of 153 Russian diplomats.

NATO and the EU supported the UK and condemned the attack.

Source: Anadolu Agency