A man identified as a former Russian spy has fallen critically ill under suspicious circumstances and is now being treated at a British hospital. There were two victims in the incident, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s. One of the two people was identified as Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military official who worked for years spying for Britian.
The victims were found unconscious on a shopping center bench at a shopping mall called the Maltings in Salisbury They had no visible injuries. Both were taken to Salisbury District Hospital. The male victim was taken to the hospital by car, while the woman was airlifted. They are currently being treated in the hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition.
Police described the incident as “suspected exposure to an unknown substance” and a “multiagency response” had been declared. Wiltshire police temporary assistant Chief Constable Craig Holden said the incident is not being treated as a terrorism incident and that the police do not believe that there is any risk to the wider public. However, people who feel ill should contact emergency services.
Wiltshire police confirmed that the victims knew each other, but did not confirm their identities. They say that the priority now is to identify any substances involved. Several locations in Salisbury have been cordoned off as part of the investigation. Firefighters have been tasked with decontaminating that area of the city.
Skripal was a Russian military intelligence colonel convicted to 13 years imprisonment for spying for the U.K. He was reportedly recruited by Britain’s MI6 intelligence service while serving as an intelligence officer during the 1990s. He continued to communicate with MI6 after his retirement in 1999.
Skripal was arrested in December 2004 on treason charges. At the time of his conviction, it was reported that he had shared information about dozens of his former colleagues operating undercover in Europe. He was paid for the information in foreign currency that was transferred monthly to his account in a Spanish bank. Skripal earned at least $100,000 for his collaboration, according to a report from Russian court officials.
Skripal was granted refuge in the U.K. following a high-profile trading of spies between the U.S. and Russia on chartered planes at an airport in Vienna, Austria in 2010. He was one of four Russians pardoned by President Dmitry Medvedev for contacting Western intelligence agencies.
The case draws some comparisons to the case of Alexander V. Litvinenko. Litvinenko was a former Russian spy who was poisoned with polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope, in London in 2006. He died that November. The episode caused an international outcry.