Wednesday 18 October 2017

Tests prove Arafat poisoned with polonium, wife claims

A scientist's report claims Yasser Arafat may have died from poisoning (AP)
A scientist's report claims Yasser Arafat may have died from poisoning (AP)

John Hall

The first forensic tests to take place on the exhumed body of Yasser Arafat show that the level of polonium in his body was 18 times higher than normal.

The results are the first solid medical evidence to suggest the late Palestinian leader could have been deliberately poisoned with the rare highly radioactive substance.

Scientists in Switzerland have been testing Arafat's remains since his body was exhumed in November last year, and have now confirmed polonium levels in Arafat's ribs and pelvis were significantly higher than average. They also discovered higher-than-expected levels of radiation in the soil around his body.

The findings, first revealed by Al Jazeera after the news organisation obtained an exclusive copy of the 108-page report, led Arafat's widow Suha to declare his death a murder, adding: "We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination."

Mrs Arafat went on: "This has confirmed all our doubts . . . It is scientifically proved that he didn't die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed."

She stopped short of specifically blaming anybody for her husband's death, however, acknowledging he had made many enemies during his time as the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Allegations of foul play surfaced immediately after Arafat's death in 2004.

Despite having many foes among his own people, a large number of Palestinians quickly pointed the finger at Israel – the country that besieged Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters during the final 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 lifestyle.

An investigation by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news channel 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 died.

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.

TOOTHBRUSH

One of her lawyers said the Swiss institute's report, commissioned by Al Jazeera, 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.

Prof David Barclay, a UK 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," Prof Barclay told the Reuters news agency. "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," he said.

Prof Barclay said the type of polonium discovered in Arafat's body must have been manufactured in a nuclear reactor.

While many countries could have been the source, someone in Arafat's immediate entourage must have slipped a minuscule 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. (© Independent News Service)

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