A TWO-man Russian “hit squad” believed to be behind the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with Novichok in Salisbury were identified by police after months of investigation.
Cops issued a warrant for two Russian men spotted on CCTV near the scene. As a murder probe continues into the death of Dawn Sturgess – who is believed to have picked up the assassins’ discarded bottle – here’s what we know.
Who are the Novichok spy poisoning suspects?
On September 5 police released names and photos of two Russian men wanted over the attempted hit on the Skripals.
Cops issued a European Arrest Warrant for Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.
And the CPS said there was enough evidence to charge them with conspiracy to murder.
Theresa May revealed the suspects were members of the Russian military intelligence service GRU – Mr Skripal’s old agency – and were not acting on a “rogue operation”.
The suspects were caught on CCTV in Salisbury at 11.58am on Sunday, March 4 “moments before the attack”, police said.
Images show Petrov and Boshriov smiling as they walk around Salisbury, as well as arriving at the local train station, before leaving Britain at Heathrow Airport.
Petrov and Boshirov stayed in the City Stay Hotel in Bow, East London, during their time in the UK.
Cops searching their room two months later on May 4 are said to have discovered minute traces of Novichok, a high-grade military nerve agent created by Soviet scientists.
On September 12, Putin said Russia had found the men suspected of carrying out the poisoning but described them as “civilians” and claimed they had nothing to do with the attack.
He said: “We have checked what kind of people they are… I hope they will turn up themselves and tell everything. There is nothing criminal in it.”
Scotland Yard was able to identify the two suspects in the polonium-210 murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
His death-bed account and a radiation trail led to Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, but Russia refused to send them to stand trial here.
How were the Novichok suspects identified?
As The Sun revealed, cops believe the Skripals were victims of a bungled hit ordered by the Kremlin and carried out by two assassins who fled the UK the next day.
Officials argued about whether it was worthwhile when Mr Putin was likely to refuse the request.
It had been thought police were initially reluctant to release details or pictures of the suspects, fearing it would be harder to bring them to justice.
What did the suspects say in a TV interview?
The two men claimed they were just tourists visiting Stonehenge and Salisbury in an interview with the state-run TV station RT on September 13.
The pair said: “Our friends had been telling us for some time we should visit this extraordinary town.”
Claiming to be interested in the history of the local area, the pair praised Salisbury Cathedral for its “123-metre spire and its clock, one of the first ever created in the world that’s still working”.
Despite being filmed “moments before” the botched hit before leaving the country hours later in a flight out of Heathrow, the brazen Russians claimed they spent “no more than an hour” in Salisbury.
Petrov aid they wanted to visit Wiltshire’s pre-historic monument Stonehenge rather than carry out a state-sponsored execution on foreign soil.
Boshirov rejected claims they handled nerve agent Novichok or the perfume bottle it was allegedly carried in.
Laughing, he said: “No, that’s complete bulls***.”
Boshirov continued: “Isn’t it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume?
“The customs are checking everything, they would have questions as to why men have women’s perfume in their luggage. We didn’t have it.”
How was Novichok used to poison the Skripals?
Police said the nerve agent was brought into Britain in a Ninna Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle with a specially made poison applicator.
Damp weather may have degraded the chemical before the victims touched it – meaning they were not exposed to its full effect.
Ex-Moscow scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who helped develop Novichok, said: “The substance was used when it was quite foggy — water droplets were in the air. It can be used only in dry air.
“If you drop it into water in some hours no trace will be left. It dissolves in water.”
LATEST ON THE POISONING
How were Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley poisoned?
Four months after the Skripal attack, the Novichok claimed two more victims.
Her boyfriend Charlie Rowley, 45, fell critically ill but has since woken from his coma.
Police believe the couple picked up a container and took it to Charlie’s home in Amesbury, where they fell ill.
A glass bottle was recovered by police and sent for testing at Porton Down.
Charlie’s brother said he told him he had picked up a perfume bottle which Dawn sprayed on her wrists.
Experts say the bottle – which could have been used to mix or squirt the poison – will yield a “goldmine” of forensic evidence.
Police conducted fingertip searches of Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury where Charlie is said to have picked up the bottle after it was discarded by the assassins.