Salisbury to Syria: Culprits behind chemical weapons attacks could be named by watchdog, chief says

The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog has suggested it could start naming the culprits behind global atrocities in the wake of the Salisbury attack.

Ahmet Üzümcü, the outgoing director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter should be a “serious wake-up call” to the international community.

“If accountability is avoided, the potential re-emergence and acceptance of chemicals as weapons of war and terror will not be deterred,” he added.

“I don’t think we can afford to continue in the absence of an attribution mechanism to identify the perpetrators using chemical weapons.”

The OPCW verified the UK’s identification of novichok as the nerve agent used in Salisbury, but did not comment on its origin.

Police have not yet identified a suspect over the poisoning, which saw the substance smeared on Mr Skripal’s front door handle.

Asked by The Independent whether the OPCW had evidence pointing to who launched the attack, Mr Üzümcü would not be drawn.

But speaking at Chatham House in London, he slapped down a conspiracy theory circulated by the Russian government claiming a different nerve agent could have been used.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was among officials citing evidence from a Swiss laboratory to suggest that BZ was deployed and evidence had been covered up.

Mr Üzümcü said a precursor chemical of BZ and a blank sample was sent to all designated laboratories alongside real evidence taken from Salisbury to prove their tests were accurate.

“The BZ samples did not have anything to do with the Salisbury samples,” he added. “It was solely for checking the quality of the work.”

Another popular conspiracy theory has centred on claims that the nerve agent used on the Skripals could have come from the British military’s own Porton Down defence laboratory, which sits just outside Salisbury.

Mr Üzümcü said the global Chemical Weapons Convention permits members to conduct “experimental activities” in facilities that are verified and regularly inspected by the OPCW.

“It is allowed by the Convention for some state parties to have small-scale facilities where they can conduct research activities for protective purposes, and they can manufacture very small amounts of chemical weapons in order to do it,” he added.

He would not confirm whether the UK already had samples of novichoks, which were originally developed by the Soviet Union, but said officials were able to identify the nerve agent used in Salisbury “in a very short space of time”.

Mr Üzümcü said that if identification had been slower, the Skripals and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey – who have all been released from hospital – would not have been effectively treated.

“All three main victims have survived and I think this proves the efficiency of British authorities,” he added.

He was speaking following meetings with senior British government officials including foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan and defence minister Earl Howe, who gave an update on ongoing decontamination work in Salisbury.