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Swiss Confirm Russians Tried To Hack Lab Analyzing Skripal Samples


British military personnel work to remove vehicles from a cordoned off area behind a police station in Salisbury near the place where the Skripals were poisoned in March 2018.

The Swiss government has confirmed reports that Dutch authorities had arrested and expelled two suspected Russian spies earlier this year after the two allegedly tried to hack a Swiss laboratory that conducts chemical weapons tests.

Switzerland summoned the Russian ambassador to protest an “attempted attack” as Moscow rejected the allegations, the latest Western claim about Russian spying and other acts of interference.

This time, the alleged target was the Spiez Laboratory, which analyzed samples from the March poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

The confirmation by Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) to AP on September 14 came after reports by the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that two Russians suspected of working for Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, were kicked out of the Netherlands earlier this year as part of a Europe-wide investigation.

Tages-Anzieger said the two were arrested in The Hague in the spring, although it was unclear exactly where or when.

"The Swiss authorities are aware of the case of Russian spies discovered in The Hague and expelled from the same place," FIS spokeswoman Isabelle Graber said in an e-mail to AP. She said the agency helped prevent "illegal actions against a critical Swiss infrastructure," and declined further comment.

Switzerland's Foreign Ministry said on September 14 that it summoned Russia's ambassador to "protest against this attempted attack" and demanded that Russia "immediately" end its spying activities on Swiss soil.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the charges and questioned why it took so long to come to public light.

"I cannot suppose that such an occurrence, in which the specialists of three Western countries participated, could remain out of the field of view of the mass media," Lavrov said on September 14 after meeting with his German counterpart in Berlin, Russian news agencies said.

The AFP news agency reported on September 15 that the two Russians expelled from the Netherlands are also being investigated by Swiss authorities for an attempted cyberattack on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

A spokeswoman for the Swiss Attorney General’s Office confirmed to AFP that the individuals linked to the alleged hack at WADA's Swiss office "are those affected by the operation mentioned by the Federal Intelligence Service" in connection with the Spiez laboratory attack.

WADA has so far not offered public comment on the report.

WADA, based in Montreal, suspended Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) in 2015 over alleged state-backed doping.

On September 14, WADA announced that its independent Compliance Review Committee (CRC) had recommended that RUSADA be reinstated.

WADA said the CRC had reviewed a letter from the Russian Sports Ministry it said had "sufficiently acknowledged the issues identified in Russia," thus fulfilling the first of two remaining criteria for its reinstatement."

For the second outstanding criterion, the CRC accepted that the new commitment to provide access to the data and samples in the Moscow laboratory to WADA via an independent expert would be sufficient to justify reinstatement," WADA added in the statement.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Interfax
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