Swiss experts found traces of polonium on Yasser Arafat's clothing, which could indicate the Palestinian leader was poisoned, a report released last weekend said. Arafat was 75 when he died in 2004 of unknown causes and no autopsy was conducted.
Swiss radiation experts have found traces of polonium on clothing that belonged to Yasser Arafat, a finding that may “support the possibility” that the late Palestinian Authority leader was poisoned, according to a report released at the weekend.
Arafat was 75 when he died in 2004 of unknown causes and no autopsy was conducted, in line with his widow's wishes.
The new details, published in a report in "The Lancet", back up media statements the team made in 2012 that it had found traces of polonium 210 on Arafat’s belongings.
Arafat died in France on November 11, 2004, and doctors were unable to specify the cause of his death.
Arafat's body was exhumed in November 2012 and samples were taken, partly to investigate whether he had been poisoned — a suspicion that grew after the 2006 assassination by polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian ex-spy and critic of the Kremlin.
That investigation is ongoing, conducted separately by teams in France, Switzerland and Russia. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Litvinenko's death.
In The Lancet report, eight scientists working at the Institute of Radiation Physics and University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne said they had carried out radiological tests on 75 samples.
The 38 samples came from a variety of Arafat’s belongings — including underwear, a Russian shapka hat, a toothbrush, a hospital cap and sportswear — that were provided by the Palestinian leader’s widow, Suha Arafat.
These were checked against 37 “reference” samples of cotton clothing that had been kept in an attic for 10 years and protected from dust.
“Several samples containing body fluid stains (blood and urine) contained higher unexplained polonium 210 activities than the reference samples,” says the case report.
“These findings support the possibility of Arafat’s poisoning with polonium 210.”
The polonium samples were measured at “several mBq”, or millibecquerels, a unit of radioactivity.
Computer modelling, which calculates polonium’s rapid decay, found that these levels “are compatible with a lethal ingestion of several GBq”, or several billion becquerels, in 2004, they said.
Arafat’s clinical symptoms “could not rule out” polonium poisoning, either..
These include nausea, vomiting, fatigue and abdominal pain.
“Since ingested polonium 210 is eliminated partly through faeces, the gastro-intestinal syndrome, associated with multiple organ failure, could be a predominant cause of death,” the authors wrote.
They acknowledge, however, that Arafat showed no hair loss or decline in bone marrow activity — symptoms that typically occur in radiation poisoning.
The team said it regrets that no post-mortem investigation was carried out immediately after Arafat’s death.
“An autopsy would have been useful in this case because although potential polonium poisoning might not have been identified during that procedure, body samples could have been kept and tested afterwards,” it said.
On July 3 2012, one of the authors, François Bochud, who is head of the Institute of Radiation Physics, told al Jazeera that the team “did find some significant polonium” in Arafat’s belongings.
“If (Suha Arafat) really wants to know what happened to her husband (we need) to find a sample — I mean an exhumation — should provide with a sample that should have a very high quantity of polonium if he was poisoned,” he told the Qatar-based TV news channel.
Beatrice Schaad, head of communications at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre, which is in charge of the institute, said the case report was the “scientific version” of what was given to the media earlier.
“There is nothing new compared with what was said” in 2012, she told AFP. "There is still no conclusion that he was poisoned.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-10-14