A Swiss lab has determined with 83 percent accuracy that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned with radioactive polonium. Tests of his bone and organ sampes show he had at least 18 times the normal level of the substance, a finding which the scientists say "moderately supports" polonium as the cause of death. Last November, President Arafat's bones were exhumed from a mausoleum for testing after analysis of his clothing showed elevated levels of polonium. He died at age 75 in 2004, a month after eating a meal at home and falling suddenly ill. Two other groups, one French and one Russian, also investigated the samples, and last month a Russian official announced they had found no trace of the deadly poison.
"Only a handful of people are reported to have died from polonium poisoning. The most famous case involves Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer turned dissident who received political asylum from the British government and lived in London.
Litvinenko died in Nov. 2006, three weeks after meeting several Russians, including a one-time KGB officer, at London's Millennium Hotel. A British public prosecutor alleges that the Russians were acting at the behest of their government and poisoned Litvinenko by lacing his tea with polonium-210.
Polonium-210 is “one of the most obscure, most bizarre, and yet most merciless of poisons,” writes Alan Cowell in The Terminal Spy, a book about the Litvinenko case.
It was used as a trigger for early nuclear weapons and subsequently as a power source for satellites and spacecraft. However, polonium-210 is extremely rare and would be difficult to obtain without the help of a government or access to a nuclear reactor. It also requires considerable scientific know-how to handle in a safe manner.
Polonium-210 is manufactured by bombarding bismuth-209 with neutrons in a nuclear reactor. Only about 100 grams are produced each year, almost all in Russia."
The French are not expected to release the results of their testing before the murder investigation concludes.
Saad Djebbar, attorney for Arafat's widow, said the Swiss report was a “significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle” that could help the French murder inquiry.