International Briefs

UK police: Russian ex-spy was attacked with nerve agent

LONDON (AP) — A Russian ex-spy and his daughter fighting for their lives in an English hospital were attacked with a nerve agent in a targeted murder attempt, British police said Wednesday.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in the southwest England city of Salisbury on Sunday, triggering a police investigation led by counterterrorism detectives. Baffled police initially said the pair had come into contact with an unknown substance.

“Having established that a nerve agent is the cause of the symptoms leading us to treat this as attempted murder, I can also confirm that we believe that the two people who became unwell were targeted specifically,” Metropolitan Police counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley said.

Rowley said a police officer who treated the pair at the scene was in serious condition.

Rowley didn’t say what nerve agent was suspected in the attack on Skripal, a former Russian agent who served jail time in his homeland for spying for Britain.

Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said there was a low risk to the public.

Police and forensics officers continued to scour several sites in and around the cathedral city on Wednesday, three days after the attack. Police kept residents away from an Italian restaurant and a pub in the city, and cordoned off part of a business park about nine miles (14 kilometers) away near the ancient stone monument of Stonehenge. Detectives appealed for information from anyone who visited either the Zizzi restaurant or the Bishop’s Mill pub in Salisbury on Sunday.

Bemused residents saw their usually placid town, famed for its 13th-century Gothic cathedral, turned into the center of a criminal probe with Cold War echoes.

With nerves still on edge, ambulances and emergency vehicles rushed to a building beside the Zizzi restaurant, which remains cordoned off. Witness Toni Walker said emergency services escorted two women from the building. Police and ambulance services declined to comment and it wasn’t immediately clear if the incident had anything to do with the ongoing investigation.

Macron meets French Jewish group amid anti-Semitism concerns

PARIS (AP) — A heated debate that has split French intellectual circles over whether to publish anti-Semitic pamphlets of a renowned writer will reach French President Emmanuel Macron when he addresses a leading Jewish group Wednesday.

Macron will be the guest of honor at Wednesday’s annual dinner by the group CRIF, whose leaders plan to question the president about fighting anti-Semitism online and recent attacks on French Jews or Jewish sites.

Macron has pledged to fight persistent anti-Semitism in France, which has the largest Jewish community in the world after Israel and the United States.

Leaders of the French Jewish community also want to take advantage of the president’s presence and media coverage of Wednesday’s dinner to call broader attention to a controversy that has inflamed the French publishing, cultural and academic circles for three months.

Gallimard, one of the largest, most influential and most prestigious French publishing houses, said in December it planned to republish a series of three fiercely anti-Semitic lampoons written between 1937 and 1941 by noted French writer Louis-Ferdinand Celine, for the first time since World War II.

Born Louis Ferdinand Destouches, Celine opposed reprinting them until his death in 1961. Celine was convicted as a collaborator and declared a national disgrace in France after the war, before being granted amnesty.

The writer is best known for “Journey to the End of the Night,” his much-acclaimed 1932 first novel written in a groundbreaking style, still frequently studied by French high school students.

A heated controversy erupted in literary circles over the publication, between those who advocate total freedom of speech and those who warn against the dangers of such texts in the context of rising anti-Semitism.

Police: At least 3 people injured in knife attack in Vienna

VIENNA (AP) — Austrian police said at least three people were injured in a knife attack Wednesday on the streets of Vienna, with the attacker possibly injuring a fourth nearby.

Vienna police said the attack happened at about 7:45 p.m. (1845 GMT; 1 p.m. EST) on Praterstrasse in the heart of Vienna.

“According to eyewitnesses a man has attacked three persons — a man, his wife and their adult daughter,” police spokesman Patrick Maierhofer told The Associated Press. “The three persons suffered heavy to life-threatening injuries and are currently in a hospital.”

A fourth person was attacked with a knife nearby shortly afterward, police said: “A link (between the attacks) is part of ongoing investigations.”