Thursday 23 May 2019

All you need to know about website claiming to have unmasked Salisbury suspect

Target: Russian former spy Sergei Skripal, who was poisoned
Target: Russian former spy Sergei Skripal, who was poisoned

Bellingcat is the website that claims to have unmasked the true identity of one of the prime suspects in the Salisbury Novichok attack.

The website bills itself as "the home of online investigations" and its report on the man it revealed to be Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga has made headlines around the world.

Bellingcat was founded by Eliot Higgins, who, the website says, focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

Mr Higgins, believed to be based in Leicester, is also the founder of the Brown Moses blog which examined conflict in the Middle East.

Bellingcat's verified Twitter account has more than 78,000 followers and its bio says "Award-winning open source investigation".

The website's homepage is divided into two columns - News and Resources.

On Thursday morning, the revelation that the man named as Ruslan Boshirov and said by the Kremlin to be a civilian is actually a top-level officer in the GRU remained the top of the home page.

The resources section includes articles with the headlines "How to Scrape Interactive Geospatial Data" and "Why are Nerve Agents so Difficult to Make?".

In its report about Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, Bellingcat outlines how its investigation arrived at its conclusion.

Its quest, dubbed "The Challenge of Finding Colonel Chepiga", began only with the photographs of the two prime suspects and their cover identities.

Investigators said they carried out image searches on several online search engines, contacted former Russian military officers, browsed photos of a military academy yearbook, searched specific terms online, and scoured leaked Russian databases.

They then obtained extracts from the passport file of Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga which contained a photograph that strongly resembled a younger "Boshirov", the report said.

It added: "Based on the array of information sources consulted - all of which were independent from each other and came from different time periods - Bellingcat was able to conclude with certainty that the person identified by UK authorities as 'Ruslan Boshirov' is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, a highly decorated senior officer from Russian military intelligence who was awarded the highest state honour in late 2014."

Press Association

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