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'Real identity' of Skripal poisoning suspect is Russian colonel, media report says

Metropolitan Police Service, AFP | Video surveillance shot of Rouslan Bochirov, identified as Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga

The real identity of one of the suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack has been identified as a Russian colonel and a decorated officer of Russian military intelligence, a British investigative news site revealed Wednesday.

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Earlier this month, British prosecutors charged two Russians with attempted murder for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with Novichok in Salisbury in March.

Prosecutors had said they believed the men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, had used aliases to enter Britain.

Boshirov's real name is Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, according to a new report released Wednesday by the British investigative website Bellingcat. The site, which specialises in investigating data online, said Chepiga is a decorated colonel who serves as an undercover officer at Russian Military Intelligence, widely known as the GRU.

Skripal was also a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who later helped identify Russian agents for Britain's MI6 spy service.

Russian authorities, who deny any involvement in the Skripals' poisoning, maintain the two suspects were tourists who had flown to London and visited Salisbury to see the town’s cathedral.

Past passport applications and addresses

The evidence posted by Bellingcat included a passport photo of Chepiga from 2003 in which he resembles a younger version of the Ruslan Boshirov seen in images released by British authorities.

It included a list of former addresses and an old photograph of Chepiga allegedly taken while he was on assignment in Chechnya.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the suspects in the poisoning were members of Russian military intelligence acting on "high level" orders.

Chepiga was born in 1979 in the village Nikolayevka in the Russian far east and finished at a prestigious military academy in the region, according to Bellingcat. He then served in the special forces of the GRU.

A regional branch of a military training organisation states on its website that Chepiga went on three tours in Chechnya while in the special forces and was awarded the prestigious Hero of the Russian Federation award in 2014.

There is no official record of him receiving the award, which is traditionally issued by the Russian president, suggesting it was for a classified mission, Bellingcat said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that he knew the identity of the two suspects and that they were "civilians, of course".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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