Salisbury Poisoning Suspect Named As Russian Colonel

The real identity of one of the two Russians blamed by Britain for the Salisbury nerve-agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal is Anatoly Chepiga, the investigative website Bellingcat says, adding that he was a decorated Russian colonel.

Earlier this month, British prosecutors charged two Russians -- identified as "Ruslan Boshirov" and "Aleksandr Petrov" -- with attempted murder for carrying out the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Novichok nerve toxin in the southern English town of Salisbury earlier this year. The prosecutors said the two were undercover officers for Russian military intelligence, the GRU.

Bellingcat, a website that covers intelligence matters, said on September 26 that together with its investigative partner, the Insider, it had established that the man who was named as Ruslan Boshirov is actually GRU Colonel Anatoly Chepiga.

"The true identify of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian colonel," British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a tweet that was later deleted.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the new claims, saying on Facebook that it was part of an "information campaign" against Russia.

Chepiga served in Chechnya and was awarded the highest state medal -- Hero of the Russian Federation -- usually bestowed personally by President Vladimir Putin, Bellingcat said, adding that after its own identification of Chepiga, "multiple sources familiar with the person and/or the investigation have confirmed the suspect's identity."

The Russian service of the BBC said it was able to confirm the Bellingcat information having studied several Russian databases obtained from anonymous sources.

In a separate development, British Prime Minister Theresa May told the UN General Assembly that Russia was "blatantly" violating a range of international norms, from seizing territory to using a chemical weapon to poison the Skripals, who were found unconscious on March 4 on a bench in Salisbury.

They were seriously ill but later made a full recovery after spending several weeks in a hospital. British officials said the two were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade chemical weapon that was developed in the Soviet Union, and blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin's government for the attack.

Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the poisoning.

Last week, the Bellingcat group said it "can confirm definitively" that the two suspects in the poisonings have links to the GRU, "based on objective data and on discussions with confidential Russian sources familiar with the identity of at least one of the two persons," and said the men's names were believed to be aliases.

On September 14, Bellingcat said it had reviewed Russian documents that indicated the two men had no records in the Russian resident database prior to 2009, a sign they may be working as operatives for the government.

In June, a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, died and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, fell ill when they stumbled across remnants of the poison in a town near Salisbury.

Britain on September 5 announced charges against the two Russian men as police issued photographs of the suspects.

The men acknowledged they were in Salisbury at the time but claimed they were there as tourists.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and BBC