French prosecutors have opened a murder inquiry into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004.
The prosecutor’s office in the town of Nanterre west of Paris has ordered a murder investigation following a formal complaint by Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat. One or more investigating magistrates, who will have the power to summon witnesses, will now carry out the probe.
Suha Arafat filed a complaint for murder against “unnamed perpetrator X” last month following the revelation by a Swiss laboratory that it had found traces of highly radioactive polonium on some of Arafat’s belongings.
Allegations of foul play have long surrounded Arafat’s death in November 2004 after French doctors who treated him in his final days could not establish the cause of death. This controversy was reignited by a recent Al Jazeera expose in which the Swiss Radiophysics Institute said it found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210 on Arafat’s clothing – the same substance that was used to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
The Palestinian Authority agreed last week to a request from Suha Arafat to exhume her husband’s body from its limestone mausoleum in the West Bank city of Ramallah for an autopsy. “I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasser Arafat,” Suha Arafat told Al Jazeera, without making any direct accusations, but noting that both Israel and the United States regarded him as an obstacle to peace.
Confined by Israel to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for three years after the erupting of the Second Intifada, an ailing Arafat collapsed in October 2004. Looking weak and thin Arafat was airlifted to a military hospital in France, where he slipped into a coma and died on 11 November 2004.