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Police contact 131 people over Salisbury nerve agent fears

Police and health officials have identified 131 people who could have been exposed to the nerve agent that has left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a critical condition

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Police contact 131 people over Salisbury nerve agent fears” was written by Steven Morris and Caroline Bannock, for theguardian.com on Thursday 15th March 2018 22.57 UTC

Police and health officials have identified 131 people who could have been exposed to the nerve agent that has left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a critical condition, it has emerged.

It was also revealed on Thursday that 46 people have attended hospital in Salisbury expressing concern that they could be affected.

Public health officials said it was possible – though unlikely – that clothes or possessions of those who ate and drank in the same restaurant and pub as the Skripals could still be contaminated.

However, a public meeting held at City Hall in Salisbury was told that only the Skripals and DS Nick Bailey had received hospital treatment.

Novichok refers to a group of nerve agents that were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s to elude international restrictions on chemical weapons. Like other nerve agents, they are organophosphate compounds, but the chemicals used to make them, and their final structures are considered classified in the UK, the US and other countries. By making the agents in secret, from unfamiliar chemicals, the Soviet Union aimed to manufacture the substances without being impeded.

“Much less is known about the novichoks than the other nerve agents,” said Alastair Hay, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Leeds who investigated the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988. “They are not widely used at all.”

The most potent of the novichok substances are considered to be more lethal than VX, the most deadly of the familiar nerve agents, which include sarin, tabun and soman.

And while the novichok agents work in a similar way, by massively over-stimulating muscles and glands, one chemical weapons expert told the Guardian that the agents do not degrade fast in the environment and have “an additional toxicity”. “That extra toxicity is not well understood, so I understand why people were asked to wash their clothes, even if it was present only in traces,” he said. Treatment for novichok exposure would be the same as for other nerve agents, namely with atropine, diazepam and potentially drugs called oximes.

The chemical structures of novichok agents were made public in 2008 by Vil Mirzayanov, a former Russian scientist living in the US, but the structures have never been publicly confirmed. It is thought that they can be made in different forms, including a dust aerosol that would be easy to disperse.

The novichoks are known as binary agents because they become lethal only after mixing two otherwise harmless components. According to Mirzayanov, they are 10 to 100 times more toxic than the conventional nerve agents.

The fact that so little is known about them may explain why Porton Down scientists took several days to identify the compound used in the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. While laboratories around the world that are used to police chemical weapons incidents have databases of nerve agents, few outside Russia are believed to have full details of the novichok compounds and the chemicals needed to make them.

Jenny Harries, regional director at Public Health England, accepted it was difficult for people to understand why they were allowed to get close to scenes that were being examined by officers in protective hazmat suits.

But she said: “The risk to the general public is low. There are only three cases in hospital. No members of the public have been harmed by this incident. It’s an important message to hang on to.”

Health and council officials, as well as police, promised to be as open as they could to allay fears, and public health representatives will be at the Saturday market in Salisbury to speak to anyone with concerns.

The deputy chief constable of Wiltshire, Paul Mills, said: “46 people have attended [hospital] expressing concern. Each has been assessed but other than the three patients you are aware of no other persons have required hospital admission.

“We have identified 131 people who potentially could have been in contact with the nerve agent and each of these has received calls to ensure their wellbeing. None of these persons have developed symptoms that would indicate they have been exposed to the agent.”

Mills called the nature and scale of the operation “unprecedented”.

He revealed almost 500 police officers and staff were involved backed up by 200 military personnel. There were also 80 ambulance staff on hand every day from nine out of the 10 ambulance trusts nationwide and 50 firefighters. Mills said that cordons could be in place for months to come.

Council leaders accepted that the international reputation of Salisbury could be dented by the attack and the economic impact could be severe.

They announced measures including business rate relief for those affected and the launch of a hardship fund for those worst hit. Park and rides in the city will be free from Saturday until Easter Monday – though there were howls of protest when the council insisted that parking costs in the city would not be reduced.

Asked what the city’s feelings towards Russia, Salisbury’s Conservative MP John Glen said: “People are outraged that a silent assassin could attempt murder. But our message to the people of Russia s that they are always welcome in Salisbury. Our issue is with the Putin regime.”

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Yulia Skripal Statement

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“I was discharged from Salisbury District Hospital on the 9th April 2018. I was treated there with obvious clinical expertise and with such kindness, that I have found I missed the staff immediately.

“I have left my father in their care, and he is still seriously ill. I too am still suffering with the effects of the nerve agent used against us.

“I find myself in a totally different life than the ordinary one I left just over a month ago, and I am seeking to come to terms with my prospects, whilst also recovering from this attack on me.

“I have specially trained officers available to me, who are helping to take care of me and to explain the investigative processes that are being undertaken. I have access to friends and family, and I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can. At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services, but, if I change my mind I know how to contact them.

“Most importantly, I am safe and feeling better as time goes by, but I am not yet strong enough to give a full interview to the media, as I one day hope to do. Until that time, I want to stress that no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves. I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being. Her opinions and assertions are not mine and they are not my father’s.

“For the moment I do not wish to speak to the press or the media, and ask for their understanding and patience whilst I try to come to terms with my current situation.”

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Shots reported near YouTube headquarters in California

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “YouTube shooting: one dead after incident at California headquarters” was written by Olivia Solon in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 3rd April 2018 21.47 UTC

One person is dead and four wounded after a shooting at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California, police say.

The San Bruno police chief said that the fatality, a woman, could be the shooter and appeared to die as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Employees posted about barricading themselves inside rooms as police and ambulances arrived at the scene.

“Heard shots and saw people running while at my desk. Now barricaded inside a room with coworkers,” Vadim Lavrusik, a YouTube employee, posted to Twitter.

A spokesman for San Francisco General Hospital said that the hospital had received three patients, one in critical condition. The patients are a 32-year-old woman in serious condition, a 27-year-old woman in fair condition, and a 36-year-old man in critical condition. The nearby Stanford hospital is expecting four to five patients of unknown condition, a hospital spokeswoman Lisa Kim said.

Zach Vorhies, a senior software engineer at YouTube, told the Guardian that he was at his desk when the fire alarm went off. As he passed through an interior courtyard between the main building and the parking garage he saw a man on the ground with what appears to be a bullet wound to the stomach. He heard what he assumed to be the shooter shout “come and get me!” and saw police with assault weapons responding.

Project manager Todd Sherman said he was sitting in a meeting when he heard people running to leave the building. Upon exiting the room he saw “blood drips on the floor and stairs” and heard people say there was a potential shooter before he managed to escape the building.

“Police cruisers pull up, hopped out with rifles ready and I told them where the situation was as I headed down the street to meet up with a couple team members,” he said.

Aerial footage shot by CBS News shows staff leaving the building with their hands in the air. Offices of other companies nearby were also on lockdown.

“My stomach sinks with yet another active shooter alert,” said California senator Dianne Feinstein. “I’m praying for the safety of everyone at YouTube headquarters.”

The incident comes during a renewed debate over American gun control laws, following a 14 February mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and teachers dead. Hundreds of thousands of Americans demonstrated for stricter gun laws on 24 March in Washington and across the country.

With Republicans in Congress blocking any new gun control legislation, much of the activism after the Parkland shooting has shifted to the private sector, with advocates pressuring corporations to drop discounts for National Rifle Association members, change their policies for selling certain weapons and accessories, or divest from companies that manufacture firearms. When a Fox News host tweeted disparagingly about a Parkland activist not getting into his top colleges, the 17-year-old successfully called for advertisers to boycott her show.

YouTube is one of the companies that introduced new policies after the Parkland shooting. In late March, it quietly debuted restrictions on some gun-related video content, Bloomberg News reported, including prohibiting videos promoting the sale of bump stocks or instructing users how to manufacture firearms or high-capacity magazines

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun manufacturers, called YouTube’s new policy “worrisome” in a statement to Bloomberg News in late March.

YouTube has also come under scrutiny for the way its platforms have been used after mass shootings to spread conspiracy theories that mass shootings are hoaxes perpetrated to advance gun control, and that grieving survivors and family members of shooting victims who appear in the media are “crisis actors”.

  • Lois Beckett contributed reporting

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MULTIPLE SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES SENT TO DC AREA MILITARY INSTALLATIONS

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The FBI has taken custody of multiple suspicious packages sent to military locations in the Washington, DC area, a law enforcement official said Monday. The official said two of the packages were sent to Fort Belvoir and Fort McNair.

At least one package, sent to the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, contained explosive material and was ultimately rendered safe. That package arrived at 8:30 a.m. ET and the building was evacuated immediately, according to Army spokesman Michael L. Howard.

“At 12:10 p.m., 52nd Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal from Fort Belvoir, VA, confirmed the package tested positive for black powder and residue,” Howard said in a statement. “The X-ray conducted indicates suspected GPS and an expedient fuse were attached. The package was rendered safe. No injuries are reported.”

Scanning machines at the facilities detected the suspicious materials upon receipt and the packages are being examined at the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, the law enforcement official said.

The National Defense University at Fort McNair was cleared for re-entry after K-9 sweep and personnel returned to the building by 1:15 pm ET.

Another Army spokesman confirmed a suspicious package incident at Fort Belvoir and said that package has been rendered safe.

(CNN)

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