Salisbury attack: Novichok poisoning suspect's passport shows link to Russian defence ministry

Alexander Petrov's passport stamped with telephone number associated with military 

Chris Baynes
Friday 21 September 2018 18:21
Russian novichok suspects appear on TV to claim they were tourists visiting Salibury Cathedral

Documents obtained by investigative journalists appear to have provided the first public proof of links between the Salisbury novichok attack suspects and the Russian government.

A passport issued to Alexander Petrov, one of the two suspects, bears a “top secret” stamp and a phone number associated with the country’s defence ministry.

British detectives have accused Mr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov of being Russian military intelligence agents who poisoned former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March, in an attack that had two unintended victims in Dawn Sturgess, who died after coming into contact with the deadly nerve agent, and her partner Charlie Rowley.

Scotland Yard believes the two names are aliases and the men’s true identities are being covered up by the Kremlin.

Vladimir Putin has insisted the pair are civilians, but passport information published by investigative website Bellingcat and news outlet The Insider appears to provide evidence of their ties to the Russian military.

Files related to Mr Petrov’s internal passport – a mandatory ID for Russian adults – are marked with a stamp reading “do not provide any information” and a phone number.

The Independent called the number prefixed with a Moscow area code and was told it was for the reception of Russia’s ministry of defence. The man who answered hung up when asked about Petrov.

According to Novaya Gazeta newspaper, the phone number is linked to Moscow’s Khoroshkovsky district, home of the headquarters of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

Another page reserved for biographical information in Mr Petrov’s passport files is left blank except for a hand-written note reading “there is a letter ss”. The abbreviation “ss” is commonly used to denote “top secret”.

The passport contains no data about Petrov’s past before 2009, when it was issued.

Other documents uncovered by the two investigative websites include an Aeroflot flight manifest which appears to show the two suspects bought tickets to the UK only hours before travelling, contradicting claims they had long planned a visit to Salisbury to see the city’s cathedral.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, dismissed the documents and accused Bellingcat of “leaking misinformation”.

Two men resembling Mr Petrov and Mr Boshirov appeared on the Kremlin-sponsored RT television network on Thursday, claiming in an interview that they were tourists who had only visited Salisbury for sightseeing.

British investigators had named the pair as suspects last week, revealing that they arrived in Britain on genuine Russian passports.

Police said the pair travelled to Salisbury on 3 March to carry out reconnaissance, then returned to launch an attack the following day and flew back to Moscow hours later. Novichok traces were found in their London hotel room.

The British government identified the men as spies and said their operation was approved at “a senior level of the Russian state”.

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