A former Russian spy is in a critical condition after being exposed to an unknown substance in England.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and a woman, 33, were found unconscious on a bench at a shopping centre in Salisbury, Wiltshire. A nearby pizza chain, Zizzi, has been closed by Wiltshire Police as a precaution while the investigation continues, said police.
Authorities have declared it a “major incident”, and while it’s not been declared a counter-terrorism incident, they’re keeping an “open mind”.
The case immediately drew parallels to the 2006 assassination of former Russian secret service officer Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 via a cup of tea, and who later solved his own murder before his death.
Investigators are reviewing his death to see if there are any similarities with the Skripal case.
“They are currently being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance,” said temporary Assistant Chief Constable Craig Holden. “Both are currently in a critical condition in intensive care.”
Skripal was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006 for spying for Britain since the 1990s. He, along with four other prisoners, was released by Moscow in 2010 in exchange for 10 US spies, later making his way to the UK.
He and the woman, who is also in intensive care, were known to each other, said police.
Eyewitness Freya Church told the BBC it looked like the pair had taken “something quite strong”.
“On the bench there was a couple, an older guy and a younger girl,” she said. “She sort of leaned in on him. It looked like she had passed out, maybe. He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky. They looked so out of it I thought even if I did step in I wasn’t sure how I could help.”