A Swiss medical laboratory has found traces of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive metal, in the former Palestinian leader’s personal effects. Is that what killed the Nobel laureate? Arafat’s clothing and other items, including his toothbrush, contained polonium-210 levels 60 to 80 percent higher than would occur naturally.
Arafat was chairman of the PLO and headed the Palestinian Authority and was viewed by many Arabs as the symbol of Palestinian interests. He received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli leaders in recognition of their peace efforts. He fell ill in October 2004 and died a month later. The cause of his death was never determined, though doctors suspected a wide variety of diseases.
It was a scene that riveted the world for weeks: The ailing Yasser Arafat, first besieged by Israeli tanks in his Ramallah compound, then shuttled to Paris, where he spent his final days undergoing a barrage of medical tests in a French military hospital.
Eight years after his death, it remains a mystery exactly what killed the longtime Palestinian leader. Tests conducted in Paris found no obvious traces of poison in Arafat’s system. Rumors abound about what might have killed him – cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, even allegations that he was infected with HIV.
A nine-month investigation by Al Jazeera has revealed that none of those rumors were true: Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004.
More importantly, tests reveal that Arafat’s final personal belongings – his clothes, his toothbrush, even his iconic kaffiyeh – contained abnormal levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element. Those personal effects, which were analyzed at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, were variously stained with Arafat’s blood, sweat, saliva and urine. The tests carried out on those samples suggested that there was a high level of polonium inside his body when he died.
Hans Jørn Storgaard Andersen via Wikimedia Commons