A man believed to be a former Russian agent convicted of spying for Britain is fighting for his life in a hospital in Salisbury, England, along with a woman, after the two came into contact with an “unknown substance” on Sunday.
Local police were alerted on Sunday afternoon after the pair was spotted unconscious on a park bench — the man exhibiting what witnesses described as “strange hand movements.”
The incident made international headlines after the man was named by the BBC as Sergei Skripal, believed to be one of four Russian spies involved in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. in 2010.
Wiltshire Police, the regional force, have not named the man or woman, but did confirm their respective ages of 66 and 33.
The pair “who we believe to be known to each other, did not have any visible injuries and were taken to Salisbury District Hospital,” authorities said. “They are currently being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance. Both are currently in a critical condition in intensive care.”
The combination of a former Russian intelligence officer and contact with a substance has led to comparisons with the 2006 poisoning of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium at a London hotel.
A long-running British inquiry found the Russian state to be culpable and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have ordered the assassination.
On Tuesday morning, Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov told journalists that Moscow was willing to help in the investigation, but that Russia had no information on what could have been behind the incident.
“We see this tragic situation, but we don’t have information on what could have led to this, what he was engaged in,” he said.
An Italian restaurant in the center of Salisbury was closed Monday in connection to the incident. Police officers were seen speaking to staff inside Zizzi’s after it was closed “as a precaution,” according to police on the scene who spoke with local journalists.
The BBC reported on Tuesday that counter-terrorism police were assisting local law enforcement in the investigation, but Scotland Yard declined to confirm this to ABC News.
Skripal was sentenced in Russia to 13 years for treason in 2006 for allegedly spying for British intelligence services, passing secrets to MI6 since the late 1990s, receiving more than $100,000 for sharing the identities of Russian agents in Europe.
In 2010, Skripal was exchanged with four other Russians for 10 U.S. citizens working as Russian agents under deep cover in the U.S. He was officially pardoned the following year in a decree signed by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.