LONDON • Britain will take "robust" action against whoever poisoned a former Russian spy, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has warned, calling the use of a nerve agent on British soil "a brazen and reckless act".
"This is an attempted murder in a most cruel and public way. We will respond in a robust and appropriate manner," Ms Rudd told Parliament yesterday.
Mr Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench on Sunday in Salisbury, south-west of London.
They were "targeted specifically" and government experts have identified the "specific nerve agent used", which will help identify the source, the Metropolitan Police said on Wednesday.
A police officer who was hospitalised after attending to the scene was affected by the same nerve agent, Ms Rudd said. The officer was in a serious condition, but "conscious, talking and engaging".
Ms Rudd stopped short of saying who she thought was responsible, though lawmakers questioning her named Russia. Conservative Edward Leigh described the attack as "a brazen act of war".
Prime Minister Theresa May is being briefed regularly on the case and officials are putting a plan in place to act as soon as the perpetrators are identified, her spokesman James Slack told reporters in London.
Earlier, Ms Rudd said she was "confident" those responsible would be found but cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
Mr Skripal was convicted in 2006 of passing the identities of Russian agents in Europe to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Russian authorities said payments totalling US$100,000 were made into a Spanish bank account in return for his work for Britain. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail but, in 2010, was pardoned and sent to Britain in a swop deal involving agents who had been arrested in the United States.
Ms Rudd said security services are working constantly behind the scenes to counter threats to British and foreign citizens in Britain.
Mr Rob Wainwright, head of the European Union's law enforcement agency Europol, offered a heavy hint about where he thought responsibility for the attack lay in a comment on Twitter.
He wrote: "Of course, we should exercise caution before jumping to any conclusions.
"But, whoever is responsible, and there are not 101 likely offenders, this is an outrageous affront to our security in Europe and our way of life."
The Times of London reported that intelligence officials are treating the poisoning as a state-sponsored assassination attempt, although there are also alternative theories including crime.
Russia has adopted an increasingly aggressive foreign policy in recent years, directed towards both its immediate neighbours and further afield. Britain has accused it of interfering in elections worldwide and has stationed forces in countries on its border to deter military action.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson told Parliament on Tuesday that Russia had become a "malign and disruptive force", and that Britain would be likely to increase sanctions if evidence emerged that Russia was behind the attack.