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Yasser Arafat, Palestinian leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, died mysteriously on November 11, 2004.
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Now, a nine-month investigation by Al Jazeera revealed Tuesday that Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004.
[...] 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.
“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,” said Dr. Francois Bochud, the director of the institute.
The institute studied Arafat’s personal effects, which his widow provided to Al Jazeera, the first time they had been examined by a laboratory. Doctors did not find any traces of common heavy metals or conventional poisons, so they turned their attention to more obscure elements, including polonium.
The study of Arafat's medical file and belongings was carried out at the University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland. The university's Centre of Legal Medicine is considered one of the best forensic pathology labs in the world.
It has studied evidence for the United Nations in East Timor and the International Criminal Court in the former Yugoslavia, and it investigated the death of Princess Diana, among other well-known personalities.
It is a highly radioactive element used, among other things, to power spacecraft. Marie Curie discovered it in 1898, and her daughter Irene was among the first people it killed: She died of leukemia several years after an accidental polonium exposure in her laboratory.
At least two people connected with Israel’s nuclear program also reportedly died after exposure to the element, according to the limited literature on the subject.
But polonium’s most famous victim was Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian spy-turned-dissident who died in London in 2006 after a lingering illness. A British inquiry found that he was poisoned with polonium slipped into his tea at a sushi restaurant.
There is little scientific consensus about the symptoms of polonium poisoning, mostly because there are so few recorded cases. Litvinenko suffered severe diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting, all of which were symptoms Arafat exhibited in the days and weeks after he initially fell ill. [...]
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