Another poisoning on British soil from a Soviet-era nerve agent could further inflame tensions between Russia and the United Kingdom.
Four months after the infamous poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in the English town of Salisbury, another two people have become violently ill in a nearby village.
Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old woman from Amesbury, died on Sunday after being exposed to the Russian nerve agent Novichok along with her partner Charlie Rowley on June 30. Rowley remains in a critical condition after eyewitnesses called to the home said the pair were sweating profusely, foaming from the mouth and dribbling.
The incident occurred seven miles from where the Skripal pair were poisoned in March. That poisoning provoked international condemnation and subsequent sanctions from the United Kingdom against Russia. Both Skripals were admitted to intensive care but survived the Novichok poisoning.
The investigation into the most recent poisoning is being led by detectives from the Counter-Terrorism Policing Network with about 100 detectives working on the case alongside Wiltshire Police, the BBC reported.
Officers are still trying to work out how the pair were exposed to the nerve agent, although tests confirm they touched a contaminated item with their hands.
"We can confirm that the man and woman have been exposed to the nerve agent novichok," say UK police. "The same nerve agent that contaminated both Yulia and Sergei Skripal." https://t.co/hDh8b0nWjM pic.twitter.com/mZv0wqQDqK
— The Guardian (@guardian) July 4, 2018
Novichok applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.
The fast-acting poison blocks messages from the nerves to the muscles, causing a collapse of many bodily functions.
UK Counter-Terrorism Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said he could not rule out the possibility that the nerve agents used in the two incidents were from the same batch, and this was one of the main lines of inquiry that scientists would be pursuing.
He described the incident as shocking and tragic, and said police were working hard to get to the bottom of the poisoning.
“[This] has only served to strengthen our resolve to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for what I can only describe as an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act,” he said.
State media agency Tass reported Russian Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists it was absurd to consider the country was somehow associated with the poisonings. Russia had previously denied any involvement with the Skripal incident.
“We don’t have any information about anyone mentioning Russia in connection with this second incident or Russia being somehow associated with it,” he said.
“We regret the death of a British citizen, we are still deeply concerned about the recurring poisonings on British soil. This imperils not only the British people but all Europeans as well.”
UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra to discuss the poisoning on Monday.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “appalled and shocked” by the death of mother-of-three.