British detectives were scrambling yesterday to find out who poisoned a Russian former double agent and his daughter with a nerve agent and left their lives in the balance while also laying low a policeman who went to their aid.
Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is in a critical condition in hospital with his daughter Yulia, 33, visiting from Russia, after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping center in the English city of Salisbury on Sunday.
The poisoning was linked with Russia by British politicians and the media, sparking angry denials from Moscow.
British police officers confirmed on Wednesday that a nerve agent was used and that their probe was listed as an attempted murder investigation.
"Sadly, in addition, a police officer, who was one of the first to attend the scene is now also in a serious condition in hospital," Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley said.
Scientific tests identified the specific nerve agent used, "which will help identify the source," he added, though declining to reveal the substance.
The three victims were reported yesterday to be seriously ill. Sky News said all three were in comas, while The Times reported Skripal's condition appeared to be particularly severe.
"The feeling is that he is not going to make it out of this," a source told the newspaper. But doctors thought it was "more positive" for Yulia and were "hopeful that she might be able to pull through." The paper added that the police officer's condition seemed "less severe." Other emergency services personnel who attended required medical treatment but have not been admitted to hospital.
Meanwhile, counter-terrorism detectives were working "around the clock" to create a timeline of the victims' movements, with "many hours" of CCTV under review, police said.
Investigators believe Skripal and his daughter were in Salisbury city center for several hours before they were found slumped on a bench.
They reportedly had lunch at a pizza restaurant and visited a pub before being discovered outside the shopping center, where onlookers said they appeared "out of it."
Investigators are also examining the 2012 death of Skripal's wife from cancer and that of his son, 44, last year in St Petersburg, reportedly with liver problems.