Yasser Arafat’s Wife Requests an Investigation into His Mysterious Death

Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's wife files a legal case in France requesting a new inquiry into the cause of her husband's death, after high levels of radiocative polomium were discovered on his clothes.

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Matthew Mirabelli / AFP / Getty Images

Suha Arafat poses in front of a portrait of her late husband Yasser Arafat at her home in Malta on November 10, 2011.

He may have been dead for close on eight years, but former PLO leader Yasser Arafat can’t be said to be resting in peace. After months of renewed speculation over the circumstances of his passing, when Arafat’s wife and daughter filed suit in France on Tuesday, requesting a new judicial inquiry into the former Palestinian leader’s still unexplained demise in Nov. 2004. They hope to persuade courts in France, where Arafat died in a military hospital outside of Paris, to examine new evidence suggesting Arafat might have been murdered by radiation poisoning. Given those suspicions — and the political sensitivity in the case — it seems likely French officials will approve the new petition.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, and 17 year-old daughter, Zahwa, filed papers July 31 requesting an investigation into the causes of the late Palestinian leader’s 2004 death. The exact causes of Arafat’s death were never determined, and long-whispered rumors of undetected foul play swirled anew when results of testing by an independent Swiss laboratory found significantly high traces of polonium-210 on Arafat’s clothes.

That highly radioactive substance was used to kill whistle-blowing former Russian spy Victor Litvinenko in London in 2006 — a killing that some speculation attributed to Moscow. When the Swiss polonium finding was revealed in an Al-Jazeera report last month suggesting Arafat’s death may have been the result of similar foul play, the former leader’s widow decided to ask French authorities to investigate.

“The Al-Jazeera investigation that revealed abnormally high doses of polonium on Arafat’s clothes prodded me to search for the whole truth about the death of my husband,” Suha Arafat told French daily le Figaro Wednesday. “I didn’t even want to think about the possibility of poisoning—it was dangerous to make the claim without proof… [But] after the conclusions of the Swiss laboratory, I went into action.”

Nagging questions and puzzling details are central to the request for the new examination. As Mrs. Arafat notes in her le Figaro interview, she and other interested parties were stunned to learn that in 2008, the French hospital that had cared for her husband prior to his death destroyed all blood and urine samples taken from him during his treatment. That decision strikes some observers as overly hasty given the 10-year window of opportunity in France that family members have to petition for new inquiries into the unsolved deaths of loved ones.

“On top of that, Arafat was a head of state — not just any old patient,” his wife said in her interview. “It’s surprising that a sovereign country like France doesn’t know the cause of death of a head of state who’d been treated in one of its hospitals… That’s the reason why I’m asking in the case for the declassification of the medical report. There’s surely a complete copy of it in the archives somewhere in France.”

Arafat says her legal request “is personal” and “beyond any political context.” Instead, she says she simply wants her daughter and Palestinian people to know the truth about her husband’s death — no matter what cause may eventually be determined.

The Palestinian Authority is of a similar mind. In July it agreed to the exhumation of Arafat’s body from its Ramallah mausoleum for further testing. Yet, as TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Karl Vick’s earlier story notes, most Palestinians and much of the wider Arab world has long blamed Israel for Arafat’s death, making any new investigation highly political regardless of its outcome.

That potential for post-mortem controversy is all the greater given the rarity of alleged or proven cases of poisoning ever being definitively pinned on a perpetrator. The Russian businessman and parliamentarian some officials suspect of having poisoned Litvinenko has never been delivered to British police for questioning, and the case still remains officially unresolved.

Similarly, while it’s known former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin in 2004, the author or authors of that plot have  never been discovered. Question marks also hover over precisely who jabbed the deadly, ricin-loaded umbrella tip into the leg of Bulgarian dissident Gregori Markov that caused his 1978 death.

And in the face of repeated medical studies debunking the claim, thousands of people continue still believe Napoleon Bonaparte’s British captors poisoned the French emperor by lacing dye he used to color his hair with arsenic. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning are in some ways consistent with the stomach cancer officially listed as Napoleon’s cause of death. But even after tests of the deposed Frenchman’s hair from different parts of his life found no changes in arsenic levels in it leading up to his death, the poisoning claim endures. So, too, is the suspicion of foul play in the death of Yasser Arafat unlikely to be laid to rest no matter what the outcome of the legal proceedings initiated this week by his wife.

13 comments
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Max1967
Max1967

Maybe they should investigate how did she become a millionaire?

Ola Dimeji
Ola Dimeji

well it is unfortunate that we are requesting for this. but what will the end result or what is family going to gain if it was investigation support the rumor? but let us wait and see.

Jacob Blues
Jacob Blues

The game is to find a way to blame Israel for Arafat's death and make him a martyr and not a washed up old terrorist. 

Unfortunately for Suha and Arafat's nephew, Palestinian diplomat, Nasser al-Kidwa, there hasn't been anything they could use to support their repeated allegations of assassination.   Now, eight years after the fact, they seem to have found their smoking gun. 

The problem with all this though is that it ignores several key facts.  First, Yasser Arafat, in his 70's was in failing health.  Published news articles up to three years before his death pointed to Arafat's ailments and weakening physical state.  The year before Arafat died there was a whole dustup regarding a necessary surgical procedure he absolutely had to have but did not want to undergo because it would necessitate him leaving Ramallah and he was not sure that Israel would allow him to return.  After much negotiating, an operatory was built next to Arafat's residence and the procedure was done.  However, despite the presence of a number of doctors, neither the ailment nor details of the surgery were ever disclosed.   In addition, both Arafat's brother and sister died of cancer within 18 months of him.  Both siblings had a viable diagnsosis and were undergoing treatment.   Therefore, the idea that Yasser Arafat was a paragon of health prior to his death falls flat. 

Second, polonium has a short half-life to the point where eight years later you had something like a decay of 132 times.  The idea that despite this deterioration in the radioactive material there was a huge spike in radiation found on Arafat's clothing means that the assassins were either incompetant or non-existent.   More than that, Arafat was tested for radiation poisoning and the medical records published by al-Jazeera show no radiation poisoning.   Worse for Suha, polonium leaves a trail.   When the KGB agent was poisoned in London, traces were found all over the city on people who came into contact with the agent and even on the flight from Russia to the UK.  Yet, apparently there has been no sign of the material on any of the people who surrounded Arafat during his last days.  Especially shocking given the high doses "found" by the Swiss testing firm. 

Third, Suha's claim that Arafat's medical records were under lock and key is false.  As his spouse, she had full access to his medical records throughout the eight years.  So too did Nasser al-Kidwa.  Yet, we're to believe that these records were hidden. 

As for what Suha gains?  Money?  Maybe she's burned through whatever Arafat stole and to get more out of the Palestinian Authority she needs to do this deed.  Or just maybe she and Kidwa finally figured out a way to doctor up Arafat's belongings after eight years. 

mdshams22
mdshams22

HISTORY WILL NEVER FORGIVE THOSE ZOINIST  THUGS  FOR KILLING  ARAFAT

Jacob Blues
Jacob Blues

Ah, so you have something along the lines of proof?  Do tell, because given what's been shown by al-Jazeera's investigation seems to fall far short of that judicial bar. 

montecristo5000
montecristo5000

A whole article that manages not to mention Israel, the likely culprits, at all. Amazing.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  MonteCristo5000, your name is Jewish.  Cristo (a Greek translation of a Hebrew word) was a Jewish rabbi born in Judea.

  Unfortunately Israel did not kill that Muslim Arab terrorist born in the occupied (by the Arabs from Arabia) land of the Copts, the original Egyptians.  Arafat was the biggest Jew killer since Hitler.  

Me_again4
Me_again4

Can you say "radioactive polonium"?  And not "radiocative polomium"?   You folks seriously need a proof-reader, or at the very least, a spell checker.  

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Is Madame Arafat still renting the whole floor of a Parisian luxury

hotel?

Jacob Blues
Jacob Blues

No,

Apparently she moved to Tunisia  - but then fled the country when she got into a 'tiff' with the wife of the former dictator.  Supposedly she now lives in Malta. 

The 'living in luxury' part though likely continues given the loot she allegedly has from her late husband. 

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

One thing is for sure. Arafat's death was the answer to millions of prayers, and the world is a better place without him.