The Tribunal de grande instance de Nanterr [official website, in French] announced Tuesday that a three-judge panel will investigate the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The investigation was prompted in August by Arafat's widow and daughter [JURIST report] after an Al Jazeera [media website] investigation [report] discovered traces of polonium-210 [IAEA backgrounder] on his final effects. The Institut de Radiophysique [official website, in French] conducted the tests for Al Jazeera and released a report suggesting that high levels of radiation could be found in Arafat's body. The organization has been granted access to his body to test for radiation poisoning. However, medical records [text, in French] released by Slate [Slate.fr report] do not suggest radiation poisoning was apparent.
Polonium-210 is best known as the poison used to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko [BBC obituary] in London in 2006. Arafat's health began to fail in October 2004, at which point he was flown to a Paris hospital. Arafat died [JURIST report] at age 75 on November 11, 2004. The week leading up to Arafat's death proved to be highly tumultuous. Only a day before an Islamic judge ruled [JURIST report] that the former leader's life support system could not be switched off despite his near-death state and burial preparations. On November 4 CBC News reported [JURIST report] that Israeli television had announced Arafat's death, only to be contradicted shortly thereafter by Arafat's French hospital. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker also confirmed the head of state's death that day. No cause of death for Arafat has ever been released, and by many accounts, he was in good health until immediately preceding his death.