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Britain's Metropolitan Police said Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter were likely poisoned with a rare nerve agent at his home. (Photo: Andrew Matthews/AP)

As investigations continue into the attempted assassination of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain, findings released this week have renewed focus on the class of nerve agents allegedly used. And experts say that the UK event and a suspected chemical-weapons attack last week in Syria provide fresh impetus for international efforts to beef up forensic capabilities.

On 12 April, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that its independent tests of environmental and biological samples identified the same poison used in the assassination attempt as forensic scientists at Britain’s national Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire did in their investigation. The attack happened in the nearby city of Salisbury on 4 March. The OPCW, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, is responsible for enforcing the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production and use of such arms.

The organization did not name the chemical agent publicly, but will share its identity and structure with states party to the convention, in a classified report. More details may emerge at a special meeting of the OPCW’s Executive Council to discuss the report, scheduled for 18 April. The UK government has said that the compound belongs to a class of nerve agents known as Novichoks.

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