UK: Nerve agent attack on ex-spy was ‘brazen and reckless’

Photo showing members of UK emergency services in green biohazard suits work where a Russian ex-spy and his daughter were found on Mar. 4, in critical condition in Salisbury, southern England, Mar 8, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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UK: Nerve agent attack on ex-spy was ‘brazen and reckless’

LONDON: Whoever attacked a former Russian spy with a rare nerve agent is guilty of a “brazen and reckless act,” and Britain’s government will act on it without hesitation when it becomes clear who is responsible, the minister in charge of domestic security said Thursday.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the House of Commons that enormous resources are being used to determine who is responsible for poisoning Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33. The pair were found unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury on Sunday, triggering a police investigation that is being led by counterterrorism detectives.
“The use of a nerve agent on British soil is a brazen and reckless act,” she said. “This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way. People are right to want to know who to hold to account. But if we are to be rigorous in this investigation we must avoid speculation and allow the police to carry on their investigation.”
While police have refused to speculate on who is behind the attack, many have focused on Russia because of the case’s similarity to the 2006 killing of another former Russian spy who was poisoned in London with radioactive polonium-210. A public inquiry found that Russia was responsible for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and that President Vladimir Putin probably approved it.
Skripal and his daughter are in critical but stable condition at a hospital in Salisbury. A police officer who came to their aid is in a serious but stable condition, though he is conscious and talking, Rudd said.
The Russian government has denied any involvement in the Litvinenko killing or the attempted murder of Skripal, a former Russian agent who had served jail time in his homeland for spying for Britain before being freed in a spy swap.
Rudd said the “government will act without hesitation as the facts become clearer.”
In an interview with the BBC, Rudd refused to speculate about what nerve agent may have been used, but she confirmed that it was a “very rare” toxic substance.
The rarity of the material buttresses suggestions that a state actor was involved.
Chemical weapons expert Richard Guthrie of the research project CBW Events, which records the use of chemical and biological weapons, said the highly public attack appears to be “an expression of power” intended to send a message.
“There’s echoes of Litvinenko — you are doing it in a way that makes it obvious you’re doing it,” he said.
Russia is “obviously a clear candidate,” but it is too soon to say who was behind the attack, Guthrie added.
“It’s also possible there could be some troublemaker out there who wants to make it look like it was Russia,” he said.
Nerve agents are chemicals that disrupt the messages sent by the nerves to the body’s organs. They can be administered in gas or liquid form, causing symptoms including vomiting, breathlessness, paralysis and often death. The banned VX nerve agent was used to kill the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader last year in Malaysia.
Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said there was a low risk to the public, but experts said nerve agents are highly dangerous and need to be processed with specialized care.
“Nerve agents are not materials that can be made at home,” said Andrea Sella, a professor of inorganic chemistry at University College, London. “Their level of toxicity is such that they are only to be manufactured in specialized facilities.”
Authorities will be looking to find impurities and residues that might provide clues as to the precise chemical process used to manufacture the material, Sella said.
“There is no question that the authorities will be looking for the container used to deliver the material, as the chemical contents would be a goldmine,” Sella said. “With this information it might well be possible to trace the origin of the substance.”
Police and forensics officers are focusing on three sites in Salisbury, a medieval city known for its towering cathedral, located 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of London. Rudd said the sites are Skripal’s home, a pub and a restaurant.
Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, was convicted in 2006 of spying for Britain and imprisoned. He was freed in 2010 as part of a widely publicized spy swap in which the US agreed to hand over 10 members of a Russian sleeper cell found operating in America in return for four Russians convicted of spying for the West.
Those who knew him in Salisbury were shocked, describing him as friendly and outgoing — hardly a man hiding out.
The owner of a local convenience shop frequented by Skripal described him as one of her favorite customers. Ebru Ozturk said she made sure to stock the food he liked, particularly smoked bacon and Polish salami.
Ozturk, 41, painted an image of an educated man enjoying his retirement — fond of playing the lottery and chatting with the locals.
“Usually he plays lottery and scratch cards,” she said. “Plus a few weeks he was lucky as well and laughed about it.”


Presidential candidate Prabowo among Indonesian VIPs attending Saudi national day

Updated 25 September 2018
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Presidential candidate Prabowo among Indonesian VIPs attending Saudi national day

JAKARTA: The Saudi Arabia's Embassy in Jakarta celebrated the country’s 88th National Day on Monday evening with presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto among the public figures attending the reception at a hotel in Jakarta.
Prabowo was flanked by his deputy in the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party and Deputy House Speaker Fadli Zon, who shared the VIP table with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignatius Jonan, ICT Minister Rudiantara and Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia, Osama bin Mohammed Abdullah Al Shuaibi. The son of Indonesia’s 6th president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who is part of Prabowo’s campaign team, was also spotted in the VIP crowd.
The playing of national anthems of both countries and a brief Qur’an recital marked the start of the reception.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Jonan thanked King Salman and the people of Saudi Arabia for facilitating the speedy welcome of 203,351 Indonesian pilgrims who performed the Hajj this year and for sending a big contingent to participate in the 18th Asian Games which was held in Jakarta and Palembang last month.
“On this joyous occassion, we would like to appreciate the remarkable achievements on the relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Indonesia, and the continuing efforts to increase the relations in various sectors that will benefit both countries’ interests,” the ambassador said in his speech.
He added that the historic visit of King Salman on March 2017 has resulted in the signing of 11 memorandum of understanding in different sectors that contributed to the increased relations between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
The VIPs were then invited to the stage to jointly cut the cake and took part in the sword dance.
Prabowo, who is running his presidential bid for the second time against incumbent President Joko Widodo in next year’s elections, told journalists that it is very important to maintain relations between the two countries.
“Prabowo is always invited to Saudi National Day and he always attends. We congratulate the kingdom for the national day celebration. We have a very strong emotional connection with Saudi Arabia,” Fadli told Arab News.
“I congratulate the kingdom, the government and the people of Saudi Arabia for the national day celebration. We have a very strong connection not just in the context of Hajj and umrah but also in other contexts. Last month I met my Saudi counterpart in a G20 meeting in Argentina and we talked about how to develop digital economy between the two countries,” Rudiantara told Arab News.