LONDON, U.K. - British police said on Saturday that they have now identified over 240 witnesses as part of their investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal.
On Saturday, the home secretary, Amber Rudd chaired a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee into the progress being made in the investigation into the attack.
Meanwhile, Russia stepped up its war of words with Britain, after it embassy in London linked the attempted murder of the double agent to the deaths of three exiled enemies of the Kremlin.
Rudd said in a statement on Saturday that the case of the 66-year-old former spy Sergei Skripal, who was poisoned with a nerve agent in the U.K., currently involves 250 counter terror police, who have identified over 240 witnesses.
Rudd, who praised the professionalism of the police, said investigators are looking at over 200 pieces of evidence and the probe, which is in its sixth day, is proceeding “at speed.”
Skripal was found slumped over and unresponsive next to his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, on a bench outside a shopping mall in Salisbury, England.
Post their discovery, the police spent 48 hours trying to figure out what sickened the former Russian spy, his daughter and one police officer who was the first to arrive at the scene.
Initially, the police described it as an illness triggered after exposure to an unknown substance but soon, the counter terrorism police took over the investigation.
British troops, trained in chemical warfare began assisting with the probe after officials declared that the duo had been poisoned by a rare nerve agent.
But even as Skripal and his daughter continue to receive treatment in intensive care, the entire investigation has threatened ties between Russia and Britain.
On Saturday, Rudd said that the government was using enormous resources to try and identify those responsible for the attempted murder.
She added, “I want to stress that they are proceeding with speed and professionalism. This investigation is focused on making sure that we keep people safe and also that we collect all the evidence so that when it comes to attribution [of the attack] we will be absolutely clear where it should be. The police have said that if anybody thinks they have any additional information they would welcome them coming forward. There is also substantial amounts of CCTV they have to go through. This is a painstaking, detailed investigation and the police need to be given the space and time to get on with it."
Russia has denied any involvement, even though the U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said the country will respond "robustly" if Moscow is found to have been behind the incident.
Skripal, who is a former Russian military intelligence officer, was convicted in 2006 of “high treason and spying” for Britain and had been sentenced to 13 years in jail by a Russian court.
He was discovered to have passed sensitive information to MI6, the British intelligence service, in exchange for cash since the early 1990s.
In July 2010, he was pardoned by then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and released by Moscow.
He was flown to Vienna, Austria along with three other accused spies and was part of a Cold War-style spy swap - in return for ten Russian agents, deep-cover “sleeper agents” who were operating for Russia in the U.S.
The infamous Anna Chapman, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s glamour spy, was believed to be part of this exchange.
The 66-year-old former agent later settled in the sleepy cathedral town of Salisbury, southwest of London and seems to have led a quiet life there, living at a modest suburban house.
On Saturday, the Russian embassy tweeted a typically sarcastic observation, saying, “What a coincidence! Both Litvinenko and Skripal worked for MI6. Berezovsky and Perepilichny were linked to UK special services. Investigation details classified on grounds of national security.”
Alexander Litvinenko was a former officer with Russia’s FSB security service who was poisoned with polonium in 2006.
Boris Berezovsky was the exiled Russian oligarch and chief critic of Putin who was found hanged in 2013.
Alexander Perepilichny collapsed after jogging near his home in Surrey in 2012.
According to experts, the explicit linking of the Salisbury attack to three critics of the Kremlin, all of whom are dead, represents a further low point in relations between London and Moscow.