Nearly eight years after his death, longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s body could be exhumed and autopsied following the discovery of a small level of polonium, an isotope found naturally in the environment, on some of his belongings.
The items, including a toothbrush and a fur hat, were kept in a secure room at an attorney’s Parisian office until earlier this year when Al-Jazeera approached the Swiss lab on behalf of Arafat’s widow, Francois Bochud told the Associated Press on Wednesday, according to USA Today. Bochud heads the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Higher levels of polonium were found on belongings he reportedly used during the time before his death, as opposed to new and unworn clothing kept in the same bag, USA Today reported.
Arafat was 75 when he died Nov. 11, 2004 at military hospital just outside of Paris. At the time, French doctors said he died from a massive brain hemorrhage. His widow, Suha, a Christian, refused an autopsy at the time of his death. Now, in light of the lab findings, she wants an autopsy to be performed, USA Today reported.
"Any result will be significant for us to help know the truth," Suha Arafat told CNN. “It is a form of closure for our family. Closing one wound but opening a new one, wondering who is responsible."
The lab says the findings don't prove Arafat was poisoned, according to the Associated Press. It’s not known if an autopsy would settle what some believe is the mystery of Arafat’s death. Even before he was taken to Paris, he was ill for weeks at his West Bank compound.
“We don't have enough information to make any definitive statement, but it does seem a bit of a stretch" to conclude that Arafat was poisoned by polonium-210, Cham Dallas, a professor and toxicologist at the University of Georgia's Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense told CNN in a telephone interview.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is willing to exhume the body of his predecessor. However, he wants to send his own experts to Europe to learn more, according to the Associated Press.
One-time KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, a vocal critic of the Russian government at the time of his death in 2006, was poisoned with polonium in London. He ingested tea laced with the polonium prior to his death.