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Russian spy mystery deepens as daughter confirmed as second victim

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The woman found unconscious on a shopping center bench next to a former Russian double agent is his daughter, a source told CNN on Tuesday.

Sergei Skripal — a 66-year-old ex-Russian military official who was convicted of spying for the UK — and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, who was visiting him from Russia, are critically ill in a UK hospital after “suspected exposure to an unknown substance” Sunday.

British counter-terrorism police are assisting a local police investigation into how the pair ended up slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.

Police had previously said the incident was not being treated as terrorism. On Tuesday, top UK officer Mark Rowley told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that counter-terrorism police would be working with Wiltshire police to “get to the bottom of what caused this.”

Skripal was previously convicted in Russia of spying for Britain before being granted refuge in the UK after a high-profile spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010.

Salisbury, perhaps best known as the stopping-off point for tourists visiting nearby Stonehenge, has since become the unlikely center of an extensive police probe into the mysterious circumstances around how Skripal and his daughter fell ill.

The pair were found on a bench in an unremarkable outdoor shopping complex, surrounded by a handful of British chain eateries, including the Italian restaurant Zizzi, which was closed as part of the inquiry.

Images taken outside the restaurant on Monday night showed investigators in anti-contamination suits searching the premises.

Authorities have declined to name the substance to which the pair were exposed.

Local resident Freya Church described seeing the pair on the bench appearing “out of it.”

“She sort of leant in on him, it looked like she’d passed out maybe. He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky,” Church told Reuters on Monday.

“I felt like I should step in but to be honest they looked so out of it that I thought that even if I did step in I wasn’t sure how I would help. So yeah, I just left them, but it looked like they’d been taking something quite strong.”

By Tuesday morning, the bench had been covered in a white forensic tent, a light drizzle of rain falling on the gathered reporters putting forward their own theories about how Skripal and his daughter became so gravely ill.

The case has drawn inevitable comparisons to the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died a slow death after meeting a contact at a London sushi restaurant in 2006.

A detailed UK inquiry later concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably approved the operation by Russian agents to kill Litvinenko. The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed that UK investigation as politically motivated.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the Skripal case, saying “we do not have any information” about the situation, and adding that he did not know whether Skripal still had Russian citizenship.

Former spy

Skripal arrived in the UK as part of an elaborately choreographed spy swap conducted by the United States and Russia in which the two countries exchanged agents on chartered planes on the runway at an airport in Vienna, Austria.

Among the 10 so-called Russian “sleeper agents” deported by the US as part of the deal was Anna Chapman, who had previously lived in London.

Skripal was one of four Russians who traveled in the opposite direction, after being pardoned by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

According to previous reports by Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti, Skripal was convicted to 13 years imprisonment in 2006 for spying for the UK.

It quoted Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence colonel, was convicted for “treason in the form of espionage” and that he had been recruited by Britain’s MI6 intelligence service.

The report said he had spied for Britain while serving as an intelligence officer during the 1990s and that he had continued to communicate with MI6 after his retirement in 1999.

Russian court officials said Skripal had received at least $100,000 for his collaboration with MI6, RIA Novosti reported.

According to the FSB, Skripal’s “actions caused serious damage to the national defense and security.” The intelligence service added that MI6 paid Skripal for the information in foreign currency, which was transferred monthly to his account in a Spanish bank.

Russian newspaper reports at the time of his conviction said that Skripal had shared information about dozens of his former colleagues operating undercover in Europe, in particular their secret meeting venues, addresses and passwords.

The FSB said that Skripal had admitted his guilt and gave truthful testimony about his activities, which the court had taken into consideration in sentencing him.

Skripal is believed to have lived in the UK since his release from Russian custody in 2010.

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