Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was murdered with polonium: widow

08.11.2013 21:34

PARIS - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
was poisoned to death in 2004 with
radioactive polonium, his widow Suha
said on Wednesday after receiving the
results of Swiss forensic tests on her
husband's corpse.
"We are revealing a real crime, a
political assassination," she told
Reuters after seeing the Swiss report,
which was obtained by Al Jazeera, the
Qatar-based news channel that has
previously carried out forensic studies
of Arafat's personal effects.
A team of experts, including from
Lausanne University Hospital's Institute
of Radiation, opened Arafat's grave in
the West Bank city of Ramallah last
November, and took samples from his
body to seek evidence of alleged
"This has confirmed all our doubts,"
said Suha Arafat, who met members of
the Swiss forensic team in Geneva on
Tuesday. "It is scientifically proved
that he didn't die a natural death and
we have scientific proof that this man
was killed."
She did not accuse any country or
person, and acknowledged that the
historic leader of the Palestine
Liberation Organization had many
Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim
peace accords with Israel and led a
subsequent uprising after the failure of
talks in 2000 on a comprehensive
Allegations of foul play surfaced
immediately. Arafat had foes among his
own people, but many Palestinians
pointed the finger at Israel, which had
besieged him in his Ramallah
headquarters for the final two and a
half years of his life.
The Israeli government has denied any
role in his death, noting that he was
75 years old and had an unhealthy
An investigation funded by Al Jazeera
first reported last year that traces of
polonium-210 were found on personal
effects of Arafat given to his widow by
the French military hospital where he
That led French prosecutors to open
an investigation for suspected murder
in August 2012 at the request of Suha
Arafat. Forensic experts from
Switzerland, Russia and France all took
samples from his corpse for testing
after the Palestinian Authority agreed
to open his mausoleum.
The head of the Russian forensics
institute, Vladimir Uiba, was quoted by
the Interfax news agency last month as
saying no trace of polonium had been
found on the body specimens
examined in Moscow, but his Federal
Medico-Biological Agency later denied
he had made any official comment on
its findings.
The French pathologists have not
reported their conclusions publicly,
nor have their findings been shared
with Suha Arafat's legal team. A
spokeswoman for the French
prosecutor's office said the
investigating magistrates had received
no expert reports so far.
One of her lawyers said the Swiss
report would be translated from
English into French and handed over
to the three magistrates in the Paris
suburb of Nanterre who are
investigating the case.
Professor David Barclay, a British
forensic scientist retained by Al Jazeera
to interpret the results of the Swiss
tests, said the findings from Arafat's
body confirmed the earlier results from
traces of bodily fluids on his
underwear, toothbrush and clothing.
"In my opinion, it is absolutely certain
that the cause of his illness was
polonium poisoning," Barclay told
Reuters. "The levels present in him are
sufficient to have caused death.
"What we have got is the smoking gun
- the thing that caused his illness and
was given to him with malice."
The same radioactive substance was
slipped into a cup of tea in a London
hotel to kill defecting Russian spy
Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From his
deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian
President Vladimir Putin of ordering his
Barclay said the type of polonium
discovered in Arafat's body must have
been manufactured in a nuclear
While many countries could have been
the source, someone in Arafat's
immediate entourage must have
slipped a miniscule dose of the deadly
isotope probably as a powder into his
drink, food, eye drops or toothpaste,
he said.
Arafat fell ill in October 2004,
displaying symptoms of acute
gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and
vomiting. At first Palestinian officials
said he was suffering from influenza.
Slideshow: Yasser Arafat, in
See key moments and memorable scen
from Yasser Arafat's life.
Launch slideshow
He was flown to Paris in a French
government plane but fell into a coma
shortly after his arrival at the Percy
military hospital in the suburb of
Clamart, where he died on November
The official cause of death was a
massive stroke but French doctors said
at the time they were unable to
determine the origin of his illness. No
autopsy was carried out.
Some experts have questioned whether
Arafat could have died of polonium
poisoning, pointing to a brief recovery
during his illness that they said was
not consistent with radioactive
exposure. They also noted he did not
lose all his hair. But Barclay said
neither fact was inconsistent with the
Since polonium loses 50 percent of its
radioactivity every four months, the
traces in Arafat's corpse would have
faded so far as to have become
untraceable if the tests had been
conducted a couple of years later, the
scientist said.
"A tiny amount of polonium the size of
a flake of dandruff would be enough to
kill 50 people if it was dissolved in
water and they drank it," he added.
The Al Jazeera investigation was
spearheaded by investigative journalist
Clayton Swisher, a former U.S. Secret
Service bodyguard who became
friendly with Arafat and was suspicious
of the manner of his death.