PoisoningDid Arafat die of radioactive poisoning?

Published 5 July 2012

When Yasser Arafat was taken seriously ill in October 2004, and then died in a Paris hospital the next month, many Palestinians charged that he was poisoned by the Israeli Mossad; his widow refused to permit an autopsy, so the poisoning theory could never be proved; now, Swiss scientists who examined items of clothing Arafat wore in his last days say these items contain a significant – and highly unusual – levels of polonium-210, a toxic radioactive material; the Russian secret service used polonium in 2006 to kill Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who became a critic of Putin’s Russian government; Arafat’s widow and the Palestinian Authority call for Arafat body to be exhumed to determine whether or not he was poisoned

Arafat (right) with Yitzhak Rabin and Bill Clinton at the White House // Source: wikimedia.org

When Yasser Arafat was taken seriously ill in October 2004, and then died in a Paris hospital the next month, many Palestinians charged that he was poisoned by the Israeli Mossad. Some said he died of AIDS.

Strict medical privacy laws in France, and the refusal of Arafat’s widow to allow an autopsy, left the questions about his sudden illness unanswered. Although Arafat was not young – he was 75 when he died – his decline was sudden and, to some, suspicious.

The BBC reports that Swiss researchers from the Institute of Radiation Physics (IRA) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland have now told Al-Jazeera that after examining several items of clothing Arafat wore in his last days, and also his tooth brush and hair retrieved from his hair brush, they found unusually high levels of polonium-210, a toxic radioactive substance. “I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” Dr. Francois Bochud, the director of the Institute of Radiation Physics, told al-Jazeera.

This use of this particular substance, if true, is intriguing: in 2006, and agent of the Russian secret service had dinner in London with Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who became a critic of Putin’s Russian government. The agent managed to poison Litvinenko’s food with polonium-210, and Litvinenko died a painful death a few weeks later.

If there are unresolved questions about Arafat’s death, there are also unresolved questions about the polonium poisoning theory:

  • A spokesman for the Institute of Radiation Physics, Darcy Christen, told Reuters that the clinical symptoms described in Arafat’s medical records were not consistent with polonium-210 poisoning
  • This was also the conclusions of experts consulted by the New York Times seven years ago: on 8 September 2005 the New York Times, after obtaining a copy of Arafat’s medical records, reported that the records showed he died of a massive haemorrhagic stroke which resulted from a bleeding disorder caused by an unknown infection. Independent medical experts who reviewed the records told the paper that based on the symptoms discussed in the records, it was highly unlikely that he had died either of AIDS or had been poisoned.

After the Al-Jazzera report aired, both Arafat’s widow and leaders of the Palestinian Authority called for Arafat’s body to be exhumed so more definitive testing could be done to determine whether or not he poisoned.

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