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Russian Spies ‘Arrested on way to Swiss Lab Testing novichok samples’, Salisbury attack

The spies, who are not the same men suspected of attacking Sergei Skripal, were sent back to Russia in the spring.

Two Russian spies, were arrested while allegedly on their way to a laboratory that tested novichok samples from Salisbury, it has been reported.

The two suspects, who are not the same pair charged with launching the attack on Sergei Skripal, were arrested in The Hague in spring.

Intelligence services suspected they were on their way to the Speiz Laboratory in Switzerland, sources told the Tages-Anzeiger and NRC Handelsblad.

Accredited by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the institution has been charged with testing the substances used in Salisbury, Amesbury and in Syria.

A spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) told the Tages-Anzeiger that it was “aware of the case of Russian spies being discovered in The Hague and then taken away”, adding: “The NDB has taken part in this operation together with its Dutch and British partners.”

She said the arrests helped “prevent illegal actions against a part of critical Swiss infrastructure”.

Officials at the Speiz Laboratory said it had also been targeted with cyber attacks, including a fake conference invitation that contained malicious software.

The spies, who were allegedly found with espionage equipment that could be used to spy on the laboratory, were sent back to Russia and have not been prosecuted.

Speiz became the centre of conspiracy theories spread by Russian state media earlier this year, which falsely claimed precursor agents for BZ rather than novichok were found in the Skripal samples.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov used the claims to turn fire on Britain by accusing it of producing BZ and violating the chemical weapons convention.

Ahmet Üzümcü, the former head of the OPCW, later said a precursor chemical of BZ and a blank sample was sent to all designated laboratories alongside real evidence taken from Salisbury to prove their tests were accurate.

“The BZ samples did not have anything to do with the Salisbury samples,” he added in May. “It was solely for checking the quality of the work.”

Russia has been seeking to discredit the OPCW’s verification of chemical weapons used in Salisbury and Syria, where it is supporting Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The Kremlin has used its power of veto at the UN Security Council to block any resolutions against the Syrian government over the atrocities, while the Russian Embassy in London has claimed the OPCW “lacks transparency”.

Tensions with Britain have risen yet again after the government identified the two men accused of launching the Salisbury novichok attack as Russian spies from the GRU military intelligence agency.

Police released images of the men last week and said they arrived in Britain two days before the poisoning on business visas and genuine Russian passports in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Two men claiming to be the suspects appeared on the state-funded RT television network on Thursday after Vladimir Putin publically called on them to give an interview.

They claimed the suspected aliases were their real names and said they visited Salisbury two days in a row to see its “famous” cathedral even though CCTV showed them walking in the opposite direction towards Mr Skripal’s house on both days.

The men explained their extensive travel history around Europe, which is now the subject of close scrutiny, by claiming to be businessmen selling sport nutrition supplements.

The pair also denied they were carrying novichok, or were possession of a specially adapted Nina Ricci perfume bottle UK police say was used to administer the poison.

Ben Wallace told the House of Commons they smuggled the novichok into Gatwick Airport using the counterfeit bottle, which was “recklessly” discarded after being used to smear the nerve agent on Mr Skripal’s front door and later poisoned Charlie Rowley and killed his partner Dawn Sturgess.

A Downing Street spokesman dismissed the interview as “lies and blatant fabrications”, which were an “insult to the public’s intelligence”.

“More importantly, they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack,” he added. “Sadly, it is what we have come to expect. An illegal chemical weapon has been used on the streets of this country.

”We have seen four people left seriously ill in hospital and an innocent woman has died. Russia has responded with contempt.“

Sajid Javid has vowed that Britain and its allies will catch the pair if they ever leave Russia again using European Arrest Warrants and Interpol red notices, but admitted the scenario is unlikely.

“If they ever step out of the Russian Federation, Britain and its allies will get them and we will bring them to prosecution,” the home secretary said on Saturday, claiming the GRU was “getting its instruction directly from the highest level of the Russian government.”

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