Two Russian spies were arrested as they tried to spy on a Swiss lab where samples from the Salisbury novichok attack were tested, it has been claimed.
The two agents – who are not the men accused by Britain of carrying out the nerve agent attack – are said to have targeted Switzerland’s Spiez laboratory earlier this year.
It is claimed the pair were carrying equipment which they would have used to hack the laboratory’s computers, although Swiss officials said no data had been stolen.
The men were arrested in the Netherlands and Swiss authorities are now investigating, various media outlets in Switzerland reported.
The two agents are accused of targeting Switzerland’s Spiez laboratory (pictured) earlier this year in an alleged attempt to hack the systems of the lab, where Novichok samples were tested
Swiss, Dutch and British intelligence worked together to foil the plot directed at the laboratory near Bern, which houses experts in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The two men were returned to Russia after their arrest.
‘The case of the Russian spies discovered in The Hague and then expelled from The Hague is known to Swiss authorities,’ a spokeswoman for the Swiss intelligence services told AFP.
The Swiss spy agency ‘actively participated in this operation in collaboration with its Dutch and British partners in prevention of illegal actions against critical Swiss infrastructure,’ she said.
The lab tested samples of the Salisbury nerve agent and has also examined chemical weapons which Syrian President Assad is suspected of using during the country’s civil war.
It carries out analytical work for the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In April this year Moscow claimed tests at the Spiez lab had found traces of a Western-produced nerve agent in the Salisbury samples.
Lab chiefs did not comment directly on the claim but said they had ‘no doubt’ British experts at Porton Down had correctly identified novichok.
Swiss, Dutch and British intelligence worked together to foil the plot directed at the laboratory (pictured) near Bern, which houses experts in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons
Today the Kremlin said it would consider any request by Britain to question the two suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The UK has accused Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov of a plot to poison former spy Sergei Skripal but they claim they were visiting Salisbury as tourists.
They were widely ridiculed after they claimed they had been to Salisbury to visit the city’s cathedral.
Britain says the two men are officers in Russian military intelligence – the GRU – who travelled to the UK under false names.
They are not the men accused of trying to hack into the Swiss laboratory.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any request from London to interview them would be considered in ‘strict accordance with the law’ but so far Britain had rejected any offer to co-operate in the investigation.
The UK has accused Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (pictured) of a plot to poison former spy Sergei Skripal but they claim they were visiting Salisbury as tourists