What we know about Novichok, the ‘newby’ nerve agents linked to Russia


Martin Boland, Charles Darwin University

A Soviet-designed “Novichok” chemical is the nerve agent responsible for poisoning a former spy and his daughter, British Prime Minister Theresa May said today.

Sergei and Julia Skripal were found collapsed on a park bench on Sunday March 4 in the English town of Salisbury, a few hours after eating lunch and spending time at a restaurant and pub nearby.

As reported by the BBC, May said the UK must stand ready to take “extensive measures” if Russia does not provide an adequate explanation for the use of this agent on British soil.




Read more:
Nerve agents: what are they and how do they work?


What are the origins of Novichok?

The Novichok group of molecules are nerve agents developed by the Soviets from the late 1970’s – but never produced on a large scale, at least to the best of public knowledge. They are referred to as third generation nerve agents to indicate their production as a follow-on to the G-series agents such as sarin (also referred to as “GB”) developed in Germany prior to WWII, and the V-series agents (such as VX gas) first developed by the UK in the 1950’s.

The name “Novichok” translates colloquially from Russian as “newbies”.

Scientists who worked on the Novichok project disclosed details from 1992 onwards. They stated that the project goals included developing weapons that:

  • could not be detected by the then standard NATO chemical weapons detection sensors

  • have potential to circumvent the Chemical Weapons Convention

  • would be easier to produce using methods and materials prevalent in pesticides industries

  • were designed from the outset to be “binary” chemical weapons (where two relatively non-toxic materials are mixed together just before dispersal to minimise the danger to the personnel delivering the weapons).

How would Novichok use be confirmed?

Members of the public said that Julie Skripal appeared passed out on the park bench in Salisbury, and her father was making strange movements with his hand. The two remain in a critical condition in hospital.

Nerve agents like Novichok are all organophosphate compounds, which act by blocking the normal processes that control nerve activity.

Symptoms are given the mnemonic “SLUGEM”:

  • Salivation – the famous “foaming at the mouth”

  • Lacrimation – “crying”, or tears pouring from the eyes

  • Urination, Defecation

  • Gastrointestinal distress

  • Emesis (vomiting) – as the body loses control over muscles, particularly those of the sphincters

  • Miosis – one of the key diagnostics; the muscles that cause the pupil to constrict become fully activated and the pupils become pinpoints in the iris.

The final “‘M” is sometimes given as “muscle spasms”. The type of spasms associated with organophosphate poisoning are somewhat diagnostic.

Although some of these symptoms are common with other nervous system disruptions, doctors are taught to look for these symptoms together as a sign of exposure to organophosphates.




Read more:
Explainer: what is VX nerve agent and how does it work?


Apart from the physical signs and symptoms, to confirm identity of the agent, police and doctors take blood or other fluid samples, or wipe the patient’s skin with a gauze to pick up any residue of the agent. Those samples are reasonably stable and could be sent to an analytical chemistry laboratory for identification.

The UK has an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) designated laboratory run by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Chemical and Biological Systems. The lab is located at Porton Down, around 10 miles from the scene of the attack.

In Australia, the equivalent OPCW designated laboratory is operated by the Defence Science and Technology Group.

The Handbook of Recommended Operating Procedures for Analysis in the Verification of Chemical Disarmament (also known as “the Blue Book”) does not have a specific method for detecting Novichok agents. However, it would be reasonable to assume that they would be detectable by the methods available to a well equipped defence science laboratory.

How could Novichok have been administered?

Nerve agents such as sarin are typically used in the form of a gas or vapour. But Novichok agents can be made in a solid form, most likely a powder. This would make them a relatively simple agent to be used on a battlefield (as may have been the original design motivation), or to add to food or to be left in a home as may be the case with the Skripals.

Nerve agents are bioavailable from the gut – that is, they can absorb into the body after being eaten. That route of delivery isn’t well studied, but is consistent with the slightly slower onset of symptoms in Sergei and Julia Skripal.

In comparison, nerve agents administered via aerosol or spray are effective very quickly – Kim Jong-Nam died shortly after facial exposure to nerve agent VX in a Malaysian airport.

Novichok agents are said to be particularly effective at penetrating the central nervous system (that is, the brain and spinal column) and causing more severe neurological symptoms than is typical for other nerve agents.

As well as Sergei and Julia Skripal, a policeman has become seriously ill as a result of this incident – it’s not clear whether this was through attending to the sick pair on the bench, or visiting Sergei Skripal’s house.

Furthermore, the UK government has issued a public health advisory notice for people who were in the pub and/or the restaurant at which the Skripals may have been poisoned. For people who may have been exposed to very small amounts of Novichok, the advised washing of clothing would act to dilute or deactivate the compounds.




Read more:
Russia not so much a (re)rising superpower as a skilled strategic spoiler


Will the ex-spy and his daughter survive?

A reported case of accidental exposure of a Russian physicist to Novichok in 1987 described the following events:

He staggered out of the room, his vision seared by brilliant colors and hallucinations. He collapsed, and the KGB took him to a hospital.

By the time he arrived his breathing was labored. In another hour, his heart would have stopped. His entire nervous system was gradually ceasing to function.

The physicist was lucky. The hospital he was taken to, the Sklifosovsky Institute, includes the nation’s top center for poison treatment.

There, Dr. Yevgeny Vedernikov saved his life.

But the scientist was at the edge of death, unaware of his surroundings, for 10 days. He couldn’t walk for six months. He was dogged by depression and an inability to concentrate. He found it difficult even to read. To this day his arms are still weak, and he has never been able to return to work.

Although he survived, the gas left him with permanent disabilities.

This previous incident suggests that while the Skripals could theoretically recover, they may not be in a fit state to act as reliable witnesses to their own attempted murders.

The question of who was responsible will remain – although British Prime Minister May has come to the conclusion that,

Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

The ConversationWe’re waiting for an official Russian response.

Martin Boland, Senior Lecturer of Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Charles Darwin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Canada: Terrorist Attack Prevented


The link below is to an article reporting on a plot to attack Canadian railways and the arrest of al Qaeda linked terrorists.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/23/canada-passenger-train-terrorist-plot

Latest Persecution News – 28 April 2012


Kidnapped Swiss Christian Freed Amid Mali’s Unrest

The following article reports on the latest news of persecution in Mali, with Al Qaeda linked terrorist groups taking advantage of the unrest in the country.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/otherafrica/article_1520258.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.

Article: Massacre of Christians Around the World a Result of US Policy?


The following link is to an article that suggests that massacres of Christians around the world are a result of US policy? What do you think? Certainly there are some attacks that are linked to what the US has done in some countries, such as attacks because of US troop action in Afghanistan burning Korans, etc.

For more, visit:
http://thenewamerican.com/world-mainmenu-26/asia-mainmenu-33/11443-christian-massacres-a-result-of-us-foreign-policy

Latest Persecution News – 4 April 2012


Explosion at Christian Meeting in Kenya Kills Boy, Woman

The following article reports on the grenade attack on a Christian meeting near Mombasa in Kenya. It is thought that Islamic extremists linked to al Shabaab group carried out the attack.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/kenya/article_1493985.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an
indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.

Latest Persecution News – 13 March 2012


Islamists in Egypt Use Rumors to Attack Christians

The following article reports on rioting Muslims attacking Christians in Meet Bahsar, Egypt.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/egypt/article_1433598.html

 

Egyptian Court Sentences Priest from Attacked Church Building

The following article reports on the arrest and jailing of an Egyptian priest in Aswan, Egypt, over a building violation. The arrest occurred after the burning of his church by an Islamic mob.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/egypt/article_1436277.html

 

Two Christian Hospital Workers Abducted in Karachi, Pakistan

The following article reports on the abduction of two Good Samaritan Hospital staff who are Christians in Karachi, Pakistan.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/pakistan/article_1436466.html

 

Another Church in Jos, Nigeria Hit by Suicide Bombing

The following article reports on yet another suicide bombing of a church in Jos, Nigeria, by extremists linked to Boko Haram.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/nigeria/article_1440491.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.

Is God a Christian, by R. Kirby Godsey


Albert Mohler reviews ‘Is God a Christian?’ in a post to his Blog in the article linked to below.

Read the article at:
http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/06/09/an-unmitigated-theological-disaster-kirby-godsey-strikes-again/

 

Pakistani Christian Falsely Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ Illegally Detained


Policeman says Arif Masih, held at an undisclosed location, is innocent.

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 15 (CDN) — Police in Punjab Province, Pakistan have illegally detained a Christian on a “blasphemy” accusation, even though one officer said he was certain an area Muslim falsely accused 40-year-old Arif Masih because of a property dispute.

On April 5 Shahid Yousuf Bajwa, Masih’s next-door neighbor, initially filed a First Information Report (FIR) against “an unidentified person” for desecrating the Quran after finding threatening letters and pages with quranic verses on the street outside his home in Village 129 RB-Tibbi, Chak Jhumra, Faisalabad district. Desecrating the Quran under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

“Some identified person has desecrated the Holy Quran and has tried to incite sentiments of the Muslims,” Bajwa wrote in the FIR. Clearly stating that he did not know who had done it, he wrote, “It is my humble submission to the higher authorities that those found guilty must be given exemplary punishment.”

Bajwa charges in the FIR that when he went outside his home at 9 p.m. and found the pages, he looked at them by the light of his cell phone and thought they were pages of the Quran. Masih’s uncle, Amjad Chaudhry, told Compass the pages look like those of a school textbook containing quranic verses.

Chaudhry said Bajwa and his two brothers are policemen. After Bajwa found the pages and the threatening letters, Chaudhry said, he arranged for an announcement to be made from the loudspeaker of the area mosque.

“The message urged all the Muslims of the village to gather there due to the urgency and sensitivity of the matter,” Chaudhry said.

He said initially local Muslims were very angry and suggested that Christian homes be set ablaze, but that others said the Christians should be first given a chance to explain whether they were responsible.

“Then some Muslims began saying that because Arif Masih lived on this street, he would be the person who could have done this crime,” he said. “However, most of the people who gathered there said that they knew Arif Masih well and they could not imagine he could do such a vile thing. But others insisted that because Masih was the only Christian who lived on the street, only he could be suspected of the crime.”

At about 10 p.m. on April 5, Chaudhry said, Bajwa’s brother Abdullah Bajwa called Masih to the Siyanwala police station, where he was arrested; Masih’s family members were unaware that he had been arrested.

According to Section 61 of Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code, an arrested person must be produced within 24 hours before a court; Masih has been detained at an undisclosed location without a court appearance since April 5, with police failing to register his arrest in any legal document, making his detention illegal. Investigating Officer Qaisar Younus denied that Masih was in police custody, but Superintendent of the Police Abdul Qadir told Compass that Masih had been detained for his own safety.

Younus told Compass that he was sure Masih was innocent, but that he had been falsely accused because of a land dispute.

 

Property Conflict

According to Chaudhry, about two years ago Masih bought a plot next to his house that another villager, Liaquat Ali Bajwa (no relation to Shahid Yousuf Bajwa) wanted to buy – and who despised Masih for it, telling the previous owner, “How come a Christian can buy the plot that I wanted to buy?”

The parcel owner had given Masih preference as he knew him well, and he understood that the homeowner adjacent to the property had the first rights to it anyway.

At the same time, Ali Bajwa was able to seize about five square feet of the house of a Christian named Ghulam Masih after the wall of his home was destroyed in last year’s flooding. Feeling he was not in position to challenge Ali Bajwa, Ghulam Masih sold the land to Arif Masih so that he could take charge, Chaudhry said.

Arif Masih subsequently filed a civil suit against Ali Bajwa to evict him from his property. Chaudhry said Arif Masih was about to win that case, and that Ali Bajwa thought he could retain that property and obtain the one Arif Masih had purchased by accusing him of blasphemy with the help of police officer Shahid Yousuf Bajwa.

Ali Bajwa had been threatening Masih, saying, “You will not only give me this plot, but I will even take your house,” Chaudhry said.

Chaudhry said he had learned that Shahid Yousuf Bajwa felt badly after villagers criticized him for falsely accusing an innocent man of blasphemy, but that Bajwa feared that if he withdrew the case he himself would be open to blasphemy charges.

 

Neighbors

Arif Masih’s family has remained steadfast throughout the case, refusing to flee the area in spite of the possibility of Muslim villagers being incited to attack them, Chaudhry said.

“It all became possible because of Muslim villagers who sided with us,” he said.

Chaudhry said that when police arrived at the scene of the Muslims who had gathered with the pages and the threatening letters, the villagers told officers that they had not seen who threw them on the street. He said that the letters included the threat, “You Muslims have failed in doing any harm to us, and now I order you all to convert to Christianity or else I will shoot you all.”

The letters did not bear the name of the person who wrote them, he added.

On Monday (April 11), Chaudhry managed to meet with Masih, though Masih’s wife has yet to see him. Chaudhry told Compass that the first thing Masih asked him was whether everyone was safe, as there are only three Christian families in the area of about 150 Muslim homes.

“If the mob had decided to harm our houses, then it would have been very devastating,” Chaudhry said.

After Masih was arrested, at midnight police came to his house and began beating on the main gate, Chaudhry said. When Masih’s wife, Razia Bibi opened the door, the officers rushed into the house and searched it.

“They were looking for some proof, but thank God they could not find anything that could even be remotely linked with the incident,” he said.

Chaudhry added that police have not mistreated Masih, but he said the matter has lingered so long that he feared police may involve him in the case, or that “things may go wrong like in most blasphemy cases.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

India’s Anti-Christian Violence in 2008 Linked to Terrorists


Christians call for agency to probe anti-Muslim terrorism ties to Orissa-Karnataka attacks.

NEW DELHI, March 25 (CDN) — Right-wing terrorists played a key role in attacking and killing Christians in Orissa and Karnataka states in 2008, one of the Hindu extremist suspects in anti-Muslim bomb blasts has told investigators, leading to renewed demands for a probe by India’s anti-terror agency.

Pragya Singh Thakur, arrested for planning 2008 bombings targeting Muslims in west India, told the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that Lt. Col. Prasad Srikant Purohit had “masterminded” the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, The Indian Express daily reported on Wednesday (March 23). Purohit is accused along with Thakur for the 2008 bombings of Muslims.

Thakur had met with Purohit after the August 2008 Kandhamal attacks against Christians began and told her “he was into big things like blasts, etc., and had masterminded the Orissa and Karnataka ‘disturbances,’” the national daily reported.

The NIA, a recently formed agency to prevent, probe and prosecute terrorism-related incidents on a national scale, is investigating several cases involving right-wing terrorism aimed at the Muslim minority in retaliation for Islamist attacks. Both Thakur, formerly a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing, and Purohit, who was serving in the Indian Army when he was arrested for his role in blasts in Malegaon city in western Maharashtra state, were part of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat.

Thakur’s statement to the NIA came soon after a Directorate of Military Intelligence report said Purohit had confessed to having killed at least two Christians in Kandhamal and playing a role in violence in Karnataka and other states.

The revelation by Thakur was not surprising, said John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council.

“We have held that the military precision of the Kandhamal riots, which spread fast and raged for months, could not be a work of mere common people, and that higher brains were at work to ‘teach the Christians a lesson’ while sending out signals of their power lust to the entire nation,” Dayal told Compass.

The violence in Kandhamal began following the assassination of a Hindu extremist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. Though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu extremists blamed Christians for it. The violence began after the arrival of Indresh Kumar, an executive committee member of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a suspect in blast cases, said Kandhamal activist Ajay Singh. Local media reports said Kumar was part of Saraswati’s funeral procession, which was designed to trigger the attacks, Singh added.

The RSS denies having played any role in terrorism. On March 12, Ram Madhav, an RSS national executive committee member, called the allegation against Kumar “a concerted political campaign.” Those who were dragging the RSS leader into blast cases “will stand thoroughly exposed,” The Times of India daily quoted him as saying.

Dayal and another Christian leader, Joseph Dias, said they had separately written to India’s prime minister and home minister seeking inclusion of the anti-Christian attacks in an ongoing NIA investigation. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said he had petitioned the president for the same.

Dias, general secretary of the Catholic-Christian Social Forum, a Maharashtra-based rights group, recalled that violence in Kandhamal spread across 13 other districts of Orissa.

“In Kandhamal alone, more than 6,600 homes were destroyed, 56,000 people rendered homeless, thousands injured, and about 100 men and women [were] burned alive or hacked to death,” Dias said. “Among the women raped was a Catholic nun.”

In September 2008, as the violence continued in Kandhamal, a series of attacks on Christians and their property rocked Mangalore city in Karnataka state.

“In Karnataka, it was hundreds of churches that were desecrated, Christians brutally beaten up, over 350 false cases foisted on them, property held by the community taken over, and no relief to date [has been] received,” Dias said.

While the government of Orissa downplayed the violence as “ethnic tensions,” Karnataka officials blamed it on Christian conversions.

The RSS and outfits linked to it such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, which claims to work for tribal welfare, facilitated the Kandhamal attacks together with alleged Hindu nationalist terrorists, Dayal said.

“We want the truth about Hindu groups’ anti-national terror activities against minority Christians to come out,” said George, whose GCIC is based in Karnataka.

Dias warned that that the latest statement by Thakur must not to be seen in isolation, as the Military Intelligence report revealed that the Abhinav Bharat had targeted Christians in several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The “game plan” is to “cripple Christian religious places, property and institutions, besides eliminating its nascent community leadership at the grassroots,” Dias added.

The Abhinav Bharat was formed in 2007 by a few right-wing Hindus allegedly disillusioned with the leaders of the Hindu nationalist movement, whom they thought were too timid to make India a Hindu nation, rather than one based on religious pluralism.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org