Russian chemist says he's worked on Novichok, despite Moscow's denial

A man takes the flag off the flagpole outside the consular section of Russia’s Embassy in London. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2018
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Russian chemist says he's worked on Novichok, despite Moscow's denial

MOSCOW: A Russian scientist told state media Tuesday he worked on an official program to produce the nerve agent Britain says was used on ex-spy Sergei Skripal, contradicting Moscow’s claims it never developed Novichok. Leonid Rink told RIA Novosti state news agency he worked on a state-backed program up to the early 1990s, adding that the former double agent and his daughter would be dead had Moscow been involved in his poisoning. “They are still alive. That means that either it was not the Novichok system at all, or it was badly concocted, carelessly applied,” he said. “Or straight after the application, the English used an antidote, in which case they would have to have known exactly what the poison was,” he said. Rink said he worked at a state laboratory in the closed town of Shikhany for 27 years, where the development of Novichok formed the basis of his doctoral dissertation. “A large group of specialists in Shikhany and Moscow worked on ‘Novichok’,” he said. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last week said Moscow never had any programs to develop Novichok. Moscow meanwhile is awaiting the arrival of two dozens diplomats ordered to leave Britain as part of a standoff over a nerve agent attack on British soil.
Britain ordered the 23 diplomats to leave by Tuesday, and they’re expected in Moscow tuesday, according to Russian media reports.
Russia retaliated by expelling 23 British diplomats, who are expected to leave Moscow in the coming days.

Russia denies involvement in the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the British city of Salisbury earlier this month. They remain in critical condition.
Britain accuses Russia of the poisoning, which Western powers see as an example of increasingly aggressive Russian meddling abroad.
International chemical weapons experts took samples Monday of the nerve agent used, which Britain says is the Soviet-developed Novichok. The experts said that they are expecting to have full results in three weeks time.


Al-Shabaab captures strategic town in Somalia’s Puntland

Displaced Somali children and teenagers attend a class to learn alphabets and numbers at a makeshift school at the Badbado IDP camp in Mogadishu. (AFP)
Updated 52 min 41 sec ago
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Al-Shabaab captures strategic town in Somalia’s Puntland

  • Puntland forces ran away as we advanced to the town because they know we had taught them tough lessons before
  • Somalia has been gripped by violence and lawlessness since the toppling of Mohamed Siad Barre in the early 1990s

BOSASO: Somalia’s militant group Al-Shabaab has captured a small but strategic town 100 km (60 miles) south of Bosaso city in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, a military officer, Al-Shabaab and residents said on Friday.
Residents in Af Urur told Reuters that the town is now controlled by Al-Shabaab.
“When we woke up this morning, we saw many Al- Shabaab fighters controlling the town. The (Puntland military) forces had left yesterday,” Ahmed Nur told Reuters from Af Urur by phone on Friday.
Al-Shabaab wants to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government, expel the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force AMISOM and establish a government based on its own strict interpretation of the Shariah.
Af Urur’s position is important because the main road that links the cities of Garowe, Bosaso and Mogadishu passes nearby.
Puntland forces and Al-Shabaab have fought in the town, which has ditch defenses, several times in the past.
Mohamed Abdi, a Puntland military officer, told Reuters Al-Shabaab had taken Af Urur town by Friday morning, adding without elaborating that only a few Puntland military forces had been in the town on Thursday evening. “We were supposed to be replaced by other forces,” Abdi said. “We shall recapture the town from Al-Shabaab.”
Al-Shabaab confirmed that they had control of the town.
“Puntland forces ran away as we advanced to the town because they know we had taught them tough lessons before,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al-Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters on Friday. “We now peacefully control Af Urur town.”
Somalia has been gripped by violence and lawlessness since the toppling of Mohamed Siad Barre in the early 1990s.
Puntland is bordered by Somaliland to its west, the Gulf of Aden in the north, the Guardafui Channel in the east, the central Galmudug region in the south and Ethiopia in the southwest.
It has a long coastline, which is abundant with fish and other natural marine resources. Puntland has the lowest rate of poverty in Somalia.