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Skripal suspects: We were just visiting the cathedral

15 September 2018

Two men accused by London of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal denied being involved with the murder attempt in a weird Russian media interview on Thursday that Britain dismissed as "an insult to the public's intelligence". "They're a normal pair who just got into trouble, I'm sure they feel pretty bad now", said Leonid, a 58-year-old entrepreneur.

A screengrab taken on September 13, 2018, from footage broadcast by Russia's state broadcaster Russia Today (RT), shows two men, purported to be Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov taking part in a television interview.

Petrov and Boshirov told RT they were visiting the "wonderful town" of Salisbury, England, to see its famous cathedral.

"Salisbury?" their interviewer asked.

"We were just taking in the English gothic [style]", Boshirov said. This time, they apparently managed to see the famous Salisbury cathedral.

When asked about the nerve agent Novichok, they emphatically denied carrying it, or the modified Nina Ricci perfume bottle, which United Kingdom investigators say contained the substance.

A government spokesman said: 'The government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service - the GRU - who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country.

And British journalists have been mocking the story on Twitter, highlighting the improbability of the pair's itinerary and route if they were truly tourists.

In their sole interview last week, two men who resembled the suspects told Russian state-sponsored television that they had visited Salisbury twice but denied they worked for Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, or had committed any crime. Russian Federation has repeatedly denied those claims.

The two men's actual identities are a matter of dispute.

British security services had named the men as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, but said these were likely to be aliases.

Editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said the men had promised to send her images of their visit to Salisbury Cathedral - which they claimed was the reason for their visit - but haven't done so.

Simonyan was mentioned 27 times in a report by USA intelligence agencies in January 2017 about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. "To cut a long story short, we are in the fitness industry".

Adding their one-hour stay was due to "lags between trains", Boshirov said the pair "maybe approached" Sergei Skripal's home "but we didn't know where it was located", per the BBC.

Police say the first visit was to stake out the town and the second to poison the Skripals. And the exotic poison is also blamed for the death of Dawn Sturgess, 44, in July, after her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, gave her what turned out to be a bottle of bogus perfume that contained the nerve agent. They denied that they carried a bottle of perfume, in which British officials found signs of Novichok.

However, with the snowfall causing traffic disruptions on Saturday, the two men reportedly spent more than two and a half hours traveling from their London hotel to Salisbury train station. They denied the allegation and Russian Federation refused to extradite them.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said bids to link the Russian state to what happened in Salisbury were "unacceptable", but when asked if he believed the men's account, Mr Peskov retorted that his opinion made no difference.

Skripal suspects: We were just visiting the cathedral