Theories about poisoning, diseases, and sabotage have swirled around Yasser Arafat since the Palestinian leader suddenly fell ill in October 2004 and died the following month. Now Al Jazeera has a new suggestion to add to the bunch: radioactive polonium. The network reported on Tuesday that its own investigation "hinted" at the possibility Arafat was poisoned by the rare element (which you may recall was also blamed for the unrelated death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006), which it found in a laboratory analysis of his belongings, supplied by his widow -- the same person who objected to an autopsy at the time of Arafat's death:
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.
It sounds compelling, but one still has to take the report with a grain of salt, considering the competing theories. The New York Times, for instance, reported in 2005 that Arafat had surely suffered a stroke resulting from an unknown infection and bleeding disorder. The paper's Steven Erlanger and Lawrence K. Altman based their finding on "a first independent review" of medical records from the French military hospital where Arafat died. One of Arafat's own top advisers, Bassam Abu Sharif, says he's sure the former leader was poisoned by a rare element called Thallium. It's even been suggested Arafat died of AIDS.
At least Al Jazeera named the laboratory where it got its analysis done -- something Abu Sharif did not do when offering his claim about Thallium. But Al Jazeera did not explain the methodology of the "nine-month investigation" it conducted that "revealed that none of those rumors were true: Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004." The lack of detail, the age of the belongings, and the fact that they were supplied by the same person who objected to an autopsy in the first place, should throw enough doubt onto Al Jazeera's findings that they should be seen as, at best, a competing theory -- not a mystery solved.