UK Labour leader suggests 'mafia-like groups' behind spy attack


London (AFP)

Britain's opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday suggested "mafia-like groups" in Russia could have been responsible for the nerve attack on a former double agent.

In an article in The Guardian newspaper, he repeated doubts that the Russian state targeted Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.

"Either this was a crime authored by the Russian state; or that state has allowed these deadly toxins to slip out of the control it has an obligation to exercise," he wrote.

"If the latter, a connection to Russian mafia-like groups that have been allowed to gain a toehold in Britain cannot be excluded."

He added: "To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security."

The left-wing leader has drawn criticism from his own MPs for failing to fully back the Conservative government, which said Moscow was "culpable" for the March 4 attack.

Corbyn condemned the "barbaric" incident, which left Skripal and his daughter in a critical condition and also injured a police officer.

"But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgements too many times," he said, noting the flawed intelligence used to justify the US-led invasion of Iraq.

He said Labour was "no supporter of the Putin regime", but "that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a 'new Cold War' of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent".

There are many Labour MPs who oppose Corbyn's left-wing views, but there has been a truce since he led the party to a better than expected result in last year's election.

His stance on Russia has put them in conflict once again, and by Friday morning, 33 had signed a parliamentary motion blaming Russia "unequivocally" for the attack.