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Authorities in England identify two Russian nationals behind nerve agent attack

In this handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police, Salisbury Novichok poisoning suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov are shown on CCTV on March in London. The two Russian nationals have been named as suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia in March. (Metropolitan Police via Getty Images)

British authorities have determined that two Russian nationals were behind the March attack on former-Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The two men are officers in Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, the Independent reported.

Wait, what poisoning?

Sergei Skripal was a former Russian Army colonel who fed information to British intelligence agency MI6. Russian authorities ultimately discovered and arrested Skripal, who was then traded to the Americans in a high-profile spy swap. He would later settle in England.

On March 4, the Skripals were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury, England. Authorities later determined that they had been poisoned by Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

After this incident, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that the Russian government explain how a nerve agent it had designed and should have had control of, ended up on British soil. The Russian Embassy responded by mocking May on Twitter, and even accusing the British government of making up the entire incident up to make Russia look bad.

What did authorities conclude?

In July, an unnamed source told The Press Association that investigators had “identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time. They [the investigators] are sure they [the suspects] are Russian.”

On Wednesday, British prosecutors and police confirmed this report.

Investigators had suspected that the perpetrators had come from outside the country. With this assumption, they searched through lists of airline passengers who had arrived at the country prior to the attack. This search led to two Russian nationals, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who had come to Gatwick Airport in London from Moscow on March 2, and had flown out of Heathrow airport hours after the attack took place. While they were in the United Kingdom, they were spotted on CCTV travelling to Salisbury, where the attack took place.

The Novichok itself was transported in a counterfeit bottle of Nina Ricci perfume, and then sprayed onto the door of Sergei Skripal's house.

The men then discarded the bottle, which was later found by Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley from the nearby town of Amesbury. Sturgess later died from exposure to the agent.

The two men were identified as being part of the GRU. This is the same Russian military intelligence agency that Sergei Skripal had worked for when he was funneling information to MI6. British investigators believe that GRU sanctioned the attack.

Prime Minister Theresa May was adamant that this attack was not carried out by "rogue" GRU operatives.

“It was almost certainly approved …  at a senior level of the Russian state,” May said.

What are the Russians saying?

The Russian government, however, continues to deny all charges.  Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that the identities of the suspects “say nothing to us.”

“Once again we ask the British to move from public accusations and manipulating information to practical co-operation via the law enforcement agencies,” she added.

It is unlikely that the two men will ever face trial in the United Kingdom since Russia and the U.K. do not have an extradition treaty, and the Russian government continues to deny the credibility of the British investigation.

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