Swiss report backs theory Yasser Arafat was poisoned

Team's tests on the remains of Palestinian leader reportedly support suspicions his death in 2004 was the result of poisoning by radioactive polonium

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 9:59am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 2:55pm

Nine years of mystery and intrigue surrounding the death of Yasser Arafat, the symbol of the Palestinian national struggle, took a contentious turn on Wednesday with the publication of a forensics report by Swiss scientists that lends support to the theory that Arafat died of poisoning with radioactive polonium-210.

Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic television channel, reported the findings of the Swiss team and posted what it said was a copy of the team's 108-page report on its website.

I am mourning Yasser again. I don’t know who did it

The news channel has been instrumental in advancing the theory that Arafat was poisoned with polonium, a radioactive element that became widely known following the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who became a critic of the Russian government. He died in London in 2006 after drinking polonium-contaminated tea.

The University of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, said it had been approached by a reporter for Al-Jazeera English on behalf of Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat's widow, in January last year. Providing a travel bag containing personal effects that Arafat had taken with him to the French military hospital where he died, Al-Jazeera commissioned a forensic examination.

The Swiss institute found "an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210" in Arafat's belongings and recommended further testing. Those results led to an exhumation a year ago.

Along with the Swiss, Russian and French teams were assigned to test the remains in an effort to resolve questions about Arafat's death in November 2004 at age 75, given the suspicions among his supporters and others that he had been killed by agents of Israel or by Palestinian rivals.

Watch: Ex-Israel PM Sharon aide says Israel stayed out of Arafat death

The latest Swiss report, dated November 5, said that, taking into account analytical limitations such as the time elapsed since Arafat's death, its findings "moderately support the proposition" that the death was the consequence of polonium poisoning.

Last month the head of the Russian team told the Interfax news agency that Russian experts had found no traces of polonium in Arafat's remains. Soon after, the Russians denied having made any statement.

The French investigators had not yet released any findings, lawyers for Arafat in Paris said.

In an interview broadcast on Al-Jazeera on Wednesday, Suha Arafat, who had received a copy of the Swiss report, said its findings proved that her husband had been assassinated.

"I am mourning Yasser again," she said. She said she would not stop fighting until the perpetrators were brought to justice, but added, "I don't know who did it."

Suha Arafat's relations with the current Palestinian leadership are notoriously hostile.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on Tuesday that the Swiss report had been received by the special Palestinian committee investigating Arafat's death and that the Russian team had handed in its results on November 2. There was no indication of when the French results were expected.

Ghassan al-Shaka'a, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, said it was now confirmed that Arafat was poisoned, but that "we need to know who planned, who instigated, who implemented" the alleged killing.

Polonium, a lethal substance

Polonium, which Swiss scientists conclude was likely to have been used to poison Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, is a highly radioactive material rarely found outside military and scientific circles.

Also known as Radium F, it is a rare but naturally occurring metalloid found in uranium ores that emits highly hazardous alpha - or positively charged - particles.

Small doses of polonium 210 exist in the soil and atmosphere, and even in the human body, but in high doses it is highly toxic if ingested or inhaled, and can damage the body's tissues and organs. One of the rarest natural elements, small doses are also found in tobacco.

Polonium was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898 while they were doing research in France on the cause of radioactivity in the mineral pitchblende, the chief ore-mineral source of uranium.