Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian intelligence agent poisoned in London, is to be buried according to Muslim tradition after converting to Islam on his deathbed.
The spy’s father, Walter Litvinenko, said in an interview published today that his son – who was born an Orthodox Christian but had close links to Islamist rebels in Chechnya – made the request as he lay dying in University College Hospital.
“He said ‘I want to be buried according to Muslim tradition’,” Mr Litvinenko told Moscow’s Kommersant daily.
“I said, ‘Well son, as you wish. We already have one Muslim in our family – my daughter is married to a Muslim. The important thing is to believe in the Almighty. God is one.'”
Nine Scotland Yard detectives were preparing to fly to Moscow as early as today to speak to witnesses who met Litvinenko around the time of his poisoning, which is believed to have happened on November 1 at a sushi restaurant in Piccadilly.
The Russian foreign ministry confirmed today that visas had been issued to the investigators and the prosecutor-general’s office also offered “to provide all necessary help to British colleagues within the framework of international agreements and the law of the Russian Federation”.
In a statement dictated on his deathbed, Litvinenko, a former agent for the KGB and its successor body, the FSB, accused President Putin of involvement in his death. “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life,” he said.
The spy’s father told Kommersant, an independent business daily, that he was also sure that Mr Putin was involved in the death, dismissing suggestions that rogue former agents may have been responsible.
“No kind of veterans organisation would dare to kill a former secret service member. There was an order right from the top to kill my son,” Mr Litvinenko said. “I am in no doubt that this was done by members of the Russian secret services, with the permission of Vladimir Putin.”
Russian authorities have denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death.
Meanwhile, one of Litvinenko’s former KGB colleagues, Yuri Shvets, said that he had given Scotland Yard information on the death, including the name of the man responsible for the murder.
“The truth is, we have an act of international terrorism on our hands. I happen to believe I know who is behind the death of my friend Sasha and the reason for his murder,” Mr Shvets told the Associated Press.
Mr Shvets, who had known Litvinenko since 2002 and last spoke to him on the day that he died, was questioned by British detectives and an FBI agent in Washington last week. He declined to confirm the name of the person he had told police was behind Litvinenko’s death in case it disrupted the investigation.
“I want this inquiry to get to the bottom of it. Otherwise they will be killing people all over the world – in London, in Washington and in other places,” Mr Shvets said. “I want to give the police the time and space to crack this case, to allow them to find those behind this assassination, the last thing I want to do is give a warning to those who are responsible.”
Litvinenko, 43, died three weeks after ingesting a toxic radioactive isotope, polonium-210, which made his hair fall out and ravaged his organs. Results of the post-mortem examination on his body are expected later this week and might help pinpoint the origin of the radioactive substance.
An Italian contact who had lunch with Litvinenko at the sushi restaurant, Mario Scaramella, was also contaminated with polonium, although he has shown no symptoms of radiation poisoning.
In an interview with Italy’s RAI television, Mr Scaramella said that doctors had told him that his body contained five times the dose of polonium-210 that would normally be considered lethal. “So my mood isn’t the best,” he told the channel.