Britain Tracing Poison That Killed Spy

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; 1:09 AM

LONDON -- The British government began tracking radioactive hotspots in London on Monday to trace the poison that killed a former KGB agent, and three people who reported possible symptoms of contamination underwent testing.

Britain announced a formal inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, but Home Secretary John Reid warned against rushing to conclusions over who might be responsible for the killing of the ex-spy turned Kremlin critic.

Litvinenko died Thursday after falling ill from what doctors said was poisoning by polonium-210, a radioactive isotope usually manufactured in specialized nuclear facilities. High doses of polonium, which is deadly if ingested or inhaled, were found in Litvinenko's body.

"The nature of this radiation is such that it does not travel over long distances, a few centimeters at most, and therefore there is no need for public alarm," Reid said in a special address to the House of Commons.

Police were able to interview Litvinenko in the hospital before he died, and are retracing Litvinenko's steps on the day he said he fell ill.

Six sites showed traces of radiation linked to the poisoning, including a bar in London's Millennium Hotel, a branch of Itsu Sushi near Piccadilly Circus, Litvinenko's house in North London and a section of the hospital where he was treated when he fell ill on Nov. 1.

Two other sites _ an office block in London's west end and an address in the posh neighborhood of Mayfair _ also showed traces of radiation, Scotland Yard said.

All the locations except Litvinenko's home are in west London, separated by about a mile.

"They said there was only a trace," said Alan Humberstone, a 27-year-old computer technician who said police found radiation at his office building in Mayfair." "(Police) said, 'You would have to ingest something to be at risk."

The Mayfair building near the Millennium Hotel contains a business intelligence company, Titon International Ltd. _ whose CEO was a former U.K. Special Services director, and Erinys UK Ltd., an international security and risk management company.

Erinys confirmed that Litvinenko had visited the office "on a matter totally unrelated to issues now being investigated by the police," but declined to elaborate. None of the staff who had contact with him have reported any ill effects, the statement said.

The other location reportedly houses an office of Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled tycoon and Kremlin critic wanted in Russia on money-laundering charges. Businesses listed at the address include a fund adviser, an investment firm, an energy company and offices of the newspaper publisher Metro International.

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