British officials announced Wednesday they are investigating whether attackers dropped multiple, hidden stashes of the deadly Russian Novichok nerve agent around an English town as part of a plot to poison former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.
The Skripals were found March 4, slumped on a bench in Sergeis home town of Salisbury, England. The two had been poisoned by the military-grade chemical weapon, but later regained consciousness and are recovering in an undisclosed location. Britain and its NATO allies united to blame Russia for the attack.
The new revelation that there could be more Novichok in the otherwise quiet town comes as a man poisoned by the same agent several weeks ago near Salisbury told the press that he came across the nerve agent in a branded, cellophane-wrapped box containing a bottle he thought was full of perfume. The victim in that case, Charlie Rowley, 45, didnt reveal—or remember—exactly where he had found the box. He said that on June 30 he gave it as a gift to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who recognized the branding on the box.
Rowley reported that he had put a pump dispenser onto the bottle, spilling some of the oily liquid onto his hands in the process. Although he said the liquid didnt smell like perfume, he washed it off without thinking about it and gave it to Sturgess, his girlfriend of two years. The 44-year-old sprayed the liquid on her wrists and rubbed them together. Within 15 minutes, she developed a headache and went to draw a bath, Rowley said. He discovered her shortly after in the bath, fully clothed, and in a “very ill state.”
Both were later found unconscious and were hospitalized. Rowley has since recovered but Sturgess died from the poisoning over a week later, on July 8.
"What we can't tell, and probably will never be able to tell, is actually is there anything else out there," Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, of Wiltshire Police, said during a press briefing Wednesday. "So, all we can do is be intelligence-led… and be meticulous with the searching," he added.
Last week, media reports indicated that British police had identified two suspects in the poisoning case of the Skripals. Now, authorities are considering whether there was a second “drop team” that left multiple sources of the Novichok nerve agent in the area for attackers to use.
According to reporting by The New York Times, British authorities believe the suspects so far may be connected to the GRU (the Russian military's foreign intelligence organization). Earlier this month, the US Justice Department released an indictment accusing 12 intelligence officers from the GRU of carrying out the 2016 hacks on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clintons campaign.