Investigators have CCTV images of the assassination squad who tried to kill former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, according to reports in the US.
Mr Skripal’s former employers, Russia’s military intelligence service the GRU, are thought to be behind the attempt to poison the ex-spy and his daughter, Yulia, at his home in Wiltshire.
The investigation has taken on added impetus since the death of Dawn Sturgess, who is thought to have handled the container in which the attackers stored the Novichok chemical weapon.
Sergei Skripal’s former colleagues in Russia’s GRU military intelligence were behind his poisoning, investigators reportedly believe. He is pictured, left, in Salisbury, and, right, during his days in military intelligence
The nerve agent Novichok is thought to have been smeared on the handle to front door of Mr Skripal’s home in Salisbury by would-be assassins
It is now thought the Scotland Yard counter-terror team working on the case are getting closer to identifying suspects.
Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert for the Institute of International Relations, told the New York Times: ‘At the very least, they have grainy photographs from CCTV of the people they assume were involved.’
The newspaper cited a British official and two Americans close to the investigation as saying investigators believe that current or former GRU agents carried out the attack.
The GRU is separate from its more notorious sister organisation, the KGB, and dealt with military intelligence, rather than going up against Western spy agencies like MI6 and the CIA.
Former paratrooper Sergei Skripal started work for the GRU in the early 90s, but is understood to have been ‘turned’ by MI6 several years later, and started passing secrets to the British.
Col Skripal was so well-connected that even after his retirement from his spy service in 1999 he continued to pass exceptional secrets to London by staying in touch with his former colleagues as a reservist officer.
Mr Skripal’s daughter Yulia was also a victim of the nerve agent attack on her father
The pair collapsed on a bench in Salisbury which was later closed off during the investigation
Dawn Sturgess (left) died and her partner, Charlie Rowley (right) was left fighting for his life after they too came in contact with Novichok
The KGB’s successor, the FSB exposed him in 2006 and he was nicknamed ‘the spy with the Louis Vuitton bag’ after grainy pictures showed him carrying a bag at an airport en route to a meeting with his handlers.
In 2010, he was exchanged on the tarmac at Vienna’s airport and brought to Britain as part of a ‘spy swap’.
Experts have previously said that his actions would have caused fury among his previous GRU colleagues, who would have felt betrayed by his acceptance of £78,000 for some of the agency’s secrets.
A report by the BBC last month claimed that the British believed Mr Skripal’s daughter’s phone had been hacked by Russian authorities
five years ago and the pair were being monitored by Russian spies before they were hospitalised but not killed in the Novichok attack.
Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU (whose headquarters are seen above in Moscow) is thought to be responsible for the nerve agent attack
Police have sealed off John Baker House, the former home of Ms Sturgess in Salisbury
The poisoning returned to the public spotlight in recent weeks after a British couple, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, were poisoned by what police say is the same batch of Novichok which poisoned the Skripals.
Ms Sturgess later died while her partner, Mr Rowley, survived and has reportedly identified to police the container he believes contained the poison.
Mr Rowley’s brother Matthew has said he believes the poison was in a perfume bottle which the couple picked up.