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UK police charge 3rd Russian in 2018 poisoning of ex-spy

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 6, 2018 file photo, police officers stand outside the house of...
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 6, 2018 file photo, police officers stand outside the house of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, who was found critically ill following exposure to an "unknown substance" in Salisbury, England. British police said Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, they are charging a third Russian suspect in the 2018 nerve agent attack on the former Russian agent in England.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 2:54 AM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2021 at 8:03 AM AKDT
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LONDON (AP) — British police said Tuesday they are charging a third Russian suspect, a member of the country’s military intelligence service, in the 2018 nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England.

Prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence to charge Denis Sergeev, who went by the alias “Sergey Fedotov,” with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, possessing and using a chemical weapon, and causing grievous bodily harm, according to London’s Metropolitan Police force.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were targeted in a nerve agent attack in March 2018 in the English city of Salisbury. British authorities say the poisoning had almost certainly been approved “at a senior level of the Russian state.” Moscow has vehemently denied the allegations.

The Skripals survived, but the attack later claimed the life of a British woman and left a man and a police officer seriously ill.

Police previously charged two other Russian military intelligence agents, known by the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, saying they traveled to the U.K. for the poisoning operation then flew back to Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed the suspects were civilians, and the two suspects appeared on Russian television claiming they had visited Salisbury as tourists.

Police said Tuesday they have evidence that the third suspect, Sergeev, was also a member of the Russian military intelligence service known as the GRU.

Arrest warrants have been issued for all three men. Police said they will apply for Interpol notices for Sergeev on Tuesday, but British prosecutors said they will not apply to Russia for his extradition because the Russian constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that “any formal extradition request is futile” while the suspects remain in Russia.

“Should any of these individuals ever travel outside Russia, we will work with our international partners and take every possible step to detain and extradite them to face justice,” Home Secretary Priti Patel told Parliament members Tuesday.

Skripal, a Russian military intelligence officer turned double agent for Britain, and his daughter, who was visiting him in England, spent weeks in critical condition after the attack.

Three months after the pair fell sick, two local residents who apparently picked up a discarded perfume vial that contained the nerve agent fell ill. One recovered, but the other died. A police officer who was investigating the case also fell ill; he recovered but later quit the force.

The case ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Britain continued to use the Skripal case to “fuel anti-Russian sentiment in British society.”

“We strongly condemn all attempts by London to hold Moscow responsible for what happened in Salisbury and insist on a professional, objective and impartial investigation of the incident,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters.

Zakharova said Russia was prepared to cooperate with British law enforcement but London rejected the idea of a joint investigation.

A senior British counter-terrorism officer who has been leading the investigation, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, said investigators have pieced together evidence suggesting that all three suspects “previously worked with each other and on behalf of the Russian state as part of operations carried out outside of Russia.”

“All three of them are dangerous individuals,” he said. “They have tried to murder people here in the U.K, and they have also brought an extremely dangerous chemical weapon into the U.K. by means unknown.”

Haydon appealed for anyone who saw the three Russians in the U.K. in March 2018 to come forward.

Online investigative website Bellingcat previously reported that Sergeev was a high-ranking GRU officer and a graduate of Russia’s Military Diplomatic Academy. The website said he was suspected of involvement in the poisoning of an arms manufacturer, his son and a factory manager in Bulgaria in 2015.

Christo Grozev, an investigative journalist with Bellingcat, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Sergeev appeared to have played a “coordinating, supervising” role in the Salisbury poisoning.

Grozev called the Metropolitan Police force’s announcement a “validation” of the group’s findings about Sergeev.

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Daria Litvinova and Daniel Kozin contributed to this report from Moscow.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.