Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Assassination plot - KGB maybe 'prime-suspect'

Litvinenko - hospitalised by a poison favoured by the KGB

In the same week as a new James Bond film hit cinemas, Britain has seen a real spy game acted out on its streets. The victim of an assassination attempt, Alexander Litvinenko [Profile: BBC] found himself hospitalised after being poisoned with what was believed to be Thallium. News of the poisoning only emerged on Sunday 19th November, nearly 20 days after he had dined with his family at the Itsu sushi bar in central London. He had already told the BBC that he had “felt ill” following a meeting at the restaurant. He had arranged to meet someone in connection with his investigation into the death of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC]. "He gave me some papers which contained some names on it - perhaps names of those who may have been involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, and several hours after the meeting I started to feel sick," he said. Two weeks later he was admitted to a specialist unit at the University College Hospital. His situation had deteriorated rapidly. His hair had fallen out and inflammation in his throat had forced doctors to administer food intravenously. Clinical toxicologist John Henry, who examined Mr Litvinenko on Saturday, told the BBC the former KGB spy’s condition was serious. "I can tell you he's ill. He is quite seriously sick. There's no doubt that he's been poisoned by thallium, and it probably dates back to 1 November, when he first started to get ill," he said on Sunday [BBC]. There was scant coverage on TV news channels on Sunday and newspaper coverage in Monday’s newspapers pushed the story towards the world news sections. By Today [Tuesday] it was the front page lead of most British newspapers with headlines such as “From Russia with Loathe” in the Daily Mirror and “From Russia with Lunch” in The Sun, both references to the James Bond title “From Russia with Love”. Described in the Sun as being like a ‘James Bond style plot’, and by the Independent as ‘a reminder of the Soviet past’, many papers put the blame firmly in the Kremlin’s court. The Kremlin has firmly denied any link to Litvinenko’s assassination attempt. However, the former spy, who arrived in Britain in 2000 has not made many friends with his former employer [BBC]. In 2003 he claimed that Al-Qaeda’s number 2, Ayman Al Zawahiri, was a former KGB agent. In his book, FSB Blows Up Russia, he also alleged the Federal Security Service were involved in apartment bombings in Moscow and Volbodosk which killed 300 people in 1999. The FSB denied any involvement and blame for the explosions has been attributed to Chechen terrorists [BBC]. Sky News said last night that Litvinenko may have made other enemies outside Russia’s establishment. There are many in the Russian mafia that would like to see him dead said one expert. There is also the possibility that exiled oligarchs and others may be involved as they would benefit from the discrediting of the Putin government. Litvinenko may also have been recruited by Britain’s security service MI5 according to an article published in the Guardian in January 2004 [Kafkas.org / Chechen Times].
As police and Britain’s security services investigate the poisoning, doctors today revealed that Mr Litvinenko may have ingested a radioactive substance [BBC]. They have also described his condition as serious and have given him a 50/50 chance of survival. Security services remain tightlipped as to where their investigations are focused. A statement released by Scotland Yard read, "We await the results of the toxicology tests and we are therefore not speculating as to the possible cause of his condition at this stage." Radioactive Thallium has been used in the past to dispatch the KGB’s enemies. In 1957 a former KGB assassin Nicolai Khokholov was the subject of an attempted assassination by the KGB with radioactive Thalium following his defection to the west [CNN]. He survived only after intensive treatment including blood transfusions and a variety of anti-toxins.

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