| Exclusive: Swiss study says Polonium found in Arafat’s bones!

Exclusive: Swiss study says Polonium found in Arafat’s bones ~ David Poort and Ken SilversteinAl Jazeera America.

Scientists find at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive element in late Palestinian leader’€™s remains.

PARIS Swiss scientists who conducted tests on samples taken from Yasser Arafat’s body have found at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium in his remains. The scientists said that they were confident up to an 83 percent level that the late Palestinian leader was poisoned with it, which they said “moderately supports” polonium as the cause of his death.

A 108-page report (PDF) by the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, which was obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera, found unnaturally high levels of polonium in Arafat’s ribs and pelvis, and in soil stained with his decaying organs.

The Swiss scientists, along with French and Russian teams, obtained the samples last November after his body was exhumed from a mausoleum in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Dave Barclay, a renowned U.K. forensic scientist and retired detective, told Al Jazeera that with these results he was wholly convinced that Arafat was murdered.

“Yasser Arafat died of polonium poisoning,” he said. “We found the smoking gun that caused his death. What we don’t know is who’s holding the gun at the time.”

“The level of polonium in Yasser Arafat’s rib…is about 900 milibecquerels,” Barclay said. “That is either 18 or 36 times the average, depending on the literature.”

Suha Arafat, the late Palestinian leader’s widow, received a copy of the report in Paris on Tuesday. “When they came with the results, I’m mourning Yasser again,” she said. “It’s like you just told me he died.”

The Swiss report only examined the question of what killed Arafat. It did not address or point towards who killed him or how.

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An illustration of Arafat’s tomb at the presidential compound in Ramallah before the exhumation CHUV

By Oct. of 2004, towards the end of the second intifada, Arafat had been holed up for more than two years in his Ramallah presidential compound, which Israeli troops had surrounded and partly razed. He was elderly and frail but his medical reports show he “was in good overall health and did not have any particular risk factors,” the Swiss report states.

On the evening of Oct. 12, Arafat suddenly fell ill after eating a meal. Based on his symptoms – nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain – his personal physician initially diagnosed flu.

But Arafat’s heath deteriorated swiftly and Egyptian and Tunisian doctors flown in to see him could not pinpoint the source of his sickness.

On Oct. 29, a wan and weak Arafat was carried in a wheelchair from his headquarters. He waved and blew kisses to the crowd surrounding his headquarters and was put aboard a helicopter and taken to Jordan. From there a French government plane carried him to Paris for emergency treatment at Percy military hospital.

French doctors were unable to diagnose or halt Arafat’s decline and he soon lapsed into a coma. On Nov. 11, Arafat, who symbolized the fight for Palestinian statehood, died at the age of 75.

Doctors at Percy hospital did not conduct an autopsy, announce the cause of death or release his medical records, which heightened speculation about the cause of his rapid demise. Many Palestinian officials close to Arafat believed he had been poisoned. In the West, rumors circulated that he had died of AIDS. Some doctors suggested leukemia or a food-borne illness had killed Arafat; others proposed that he had simply succumbed to old age.

By 2011, when Al Jazeera began an investigation, Arafat’s death was a cold case. During the investigation, Suha Arafat gave the network access to her late husband’s full medical records and a bag of his belongings, including clothing he wore during his final days. Tests conducted by the Swiss scientists who issued the new report found elevated levels of polonium-210, one of the element’s isotopes, in blood, sweat and urine stains on Arafat’s clothes.

In July 2012, Al Jazeera broadcast the results of its investigation in What Killed Arafat? The documentary triggered a French murder investigation and led to the exhumation of Arafat’s remains. Sixty samples of his body tissue were taken and twenty each distributed to the Swiss team, a French team of judges and forensic experts assigned to the murder investigation, and a Russian group invited at the request of the Palestinian Authority.

The Russians are expected to disclose their results soon. The French are not expected to release their results before the murder investigation concludes.

Saad Djebbar, Suha Arafat’s lawyer, said the Swiss report was a “significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle” that could help the French murder inquiry.

A rare but lethal poison

Polonium is a soft, silvery-grey metal found in uranium ore. The isotope polonium-210 emits highly radioactive alpha particles, but they don’t travel more than a few centimetres in air and “are stopped by a sheet of paper or by the dead layer of outer skin on our bodies,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

For that reason polonium-210 is not a risk to human health as long as it remains outside the body. But a dose of 0.1 microgram – the size of a speck of dust weighing less than a millionth of a snowflake – would be fatal if it were ingested in food or liquids or inhaled in contaminated air.

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.

Suha and Zahwa
Yasser Arafat’s wife and daughter awaiting the Swiss study’s results in Paris at Le Royal Monceau 
David Poort

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.

In terms of motive, the chief suspects would be Arafat’s Palestinian rivals or the Israeli government, his sworn enemy. Ariel Sharon, the prime minister in 2004, viewed Arafat as a “terrorist” and called his death “a turning point in Middle Eastern history.” A year earlier, then-Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said killing Arafat ”is definitely one of the options.”

However, Israel has always vehemently denied it had anything to do with Arafat’s sickness or death and to date no evidence has emerged that implicates it.

While Barclay expressed confidence in the cause of death, he said it would be a difficult case to solve.

“The main problem is the timeframe,” he said. “If this was a murder that happened yesterday you’d have witnesses and cell phone records, emails, bank transfers. In a nine-year-old case that type of information will be hard to obtain.”

“We can’t point a finger at anyone,” Suha Arafat said. “The French are conducting a serious investigation. It takes time.”

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| Breaking: Widow proves Arafat was poisoned with polonium!

UPDATE 1-Palestinian leader Arafat was murdered with polonium – widow ~ Paul Taylor, PARIS.

(Reuters) – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his widow Suha said on Wednesday after receiving the results of Swiss forensic tests on her husband’s corpse.

“We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination,” she told Reuters in Paris.

A team of experts, including from Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics, opened Arafat’s grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November, and took samples from his body to seek evidence of alleged poisoning.

“This has confirmed all our doubts,” said Suha Arafat, who met members of the Swiss forensic team in Geneva on Tuesday. “It is scientifically proved that he didn’t die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”

She did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization had many enemies.

Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel and led a subsequent uprising after the failure of talks in 2000 on a comprehensive agreement.

Allegations of foul play surfaced immediately. Arafat had foes among his own people, but many Palestinians pointed the finger at Israel, which had besieged him in his Ramallah headquarters for the final two and a half years of his life.

The Israeli government has denied any role in his death, noting that he was 75 years old and had an unhealthy lifestyle.

An investigation by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news channel first reported last year that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Arafat given to his widow by the French military hospital where he died.

That led French prosecutors to open an investigation for suspected murder in August 2012 at the request of Suha Arafat. Forensic experts from Switzerland, Russia and France all took samples from his corpse for testing after the Palestinian Authority agreed to open his mausoleum.

“SMOKING GUN”

The head of the Russian forensics institute, Vladimir Uiba, was quoted by the Interfax news agency last month as saying no trace of polonium had been found on the body specimens examined in Moscow, but his Federal Medico-Biological Agency later denied he had made any official comment on its findings.

The French pathologists have not reported their conclusions publicly, nor have their findings been shared with Suha Arafat’s legal team. A spokeswoman for the French prosecutor’s office said the investigating magistrats had received no expert reports so far.

One of her lawyers said the Swiss institute’s report, commissioned by Al Jazeera, would be translated from English into French and handed over to the three magistrates in the Paris suburb of Nanterre who are investigating the case.

Professor David Barclay, a British forensic scientist retained by Al Jazeera to interpret the results of the Swiss tests, said the findings from Arafat’s body confirmed the earlier results from traces of bodily fluids on his underwear, toothbrush and clothing.

“In my opinion, it is absolutely certain that the cause of his illness was polonium poisoning,” Barclay told Reuters. “The levels present in him are sufficient to have caused death.

“What we have got is the smoking gun – the thing that caused his illness and was given to him with malice.”

The same radioactive substance was slipped into a cup of tea in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

The British government refused to hold a public inquiry into his death after ministers withheld some material which could have shed light on Russia’s suspected involvement.

Barclay said the type of polonium discovered in Arafat’s body must have been manufactured in a nuclear reactor.

While many countries could have been the source, someone in Arafat’s immediate entourage must have slipped a miniscule dose of the deadly isotope probably as a powder into his drink, food, eye drops or toothpaste, he said.

BRIEF RECOVERY

Arafat fell ill in October 2004, displaying symptoms of acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and vomiting. At first Palestinian officials said he was suffering from influenza.

He was flown to Paris in a French government plane but fell into a coma shortly after his arrival at the Percy military hospital in the suburb of Clamart, where he died on Nov. 11.

The official cause of death was a massive stroke but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.

Barclay said no one would have thought to look for polonium as a possible poison until the Litvinenko case, which occurred two years after Arafat’s death.

Some experts have questioned whether Arafat could have died of polonium poisoning, pointing to a brief recovery during his illness that they said was not consistent with radioactive exposure. They also noted he did not lose all his hair. But Barclay said neither fact was inconsistent with the findings.

Since polonium loses 50 percent of its radioactivity every four months, the traces in Arafat’s corpse would have faded so far as to have become untraceable if the tests had been conducted a couple of years later, the scientist said.

“A tiny amount of polonium the size of a flake of dandruff would be enough to kill 50 people if it was dissolved in water and they drank it,” he added.

The Al Jazeera investigation was spearheaded by investigative journalist Clayton Swisher, a former U.S. Secret Service bodyguard who became friendly with Arafat and was suspicious of the manner of his death.

Hani al-Hassan, a former aide, said in 2003 that he had witnessed 13 assassination attempts on Arafat’s life, dating back to his years on the run as PLO leader. Arafat claimed to have survived 40 attempts on his life.

Arafat narrowly escaped an Israeli air strike on his headquarters in Tunisia in 1985. He had just gone out jogging when the bombers attacked, killing 73 people.

He escaped another attempt on his life when Israeli warplanes came close to killing him during the 182 invasion of Beirut when they hit one of the buildings they suspected he was using as his headquarters but he was not there. In December 2001, Arafat was rushed to safety just before Israeli helicopters bombarded his compound in Ramallah with rockets.

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Al Jazeera exposes forensic results on Arafat’s death: http://aje.me/17MEioc

polonium2Al Jazeera exposes forensic results on Arafat’s death: http://aje.me/17MEioc

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| Planck satellite: Maps detail Universe’s oldest light!

Planck satellite: Maps detail Universe’s ancient light ~ Jonathan AmosScience correspondent, BBC News, Paris.

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A map tracing the “oldest light” in the sky has been produced by Europe’s Planck Surveyor satellite. Its pattern confirms the Big Bang theory for the origin of the Universe but subtle, unexpected details will require scientists to adjust some of their ideas.
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A spectacular new map of the “oldest light” in the sky has just been released by the European Space Agency.

Scientists say its mottled pattern is an exquisite confirmation of our Big-Bang model for the origin and evolution of the Universe.

But there are features in the picture, they add, that are unexpected and will require ideas to be refined.

The map was assembled from 15 months’ worth of data acquired by the 600m-euro (£515m) Planck space telescope.

It details what is known as the cosmic microwave background, or CMB – a faint glow of microwave radiation that pervades all of space.

Its precise configuration, visible in the new Planck data, is suggestive of a cosmos that is slightly older than previously thought – one that came into existence 13.82 billion years ago.

This is an increase of about 50 million years on earlier calculations.

The map’s pattern also indicates a subtle adjustment is needed to the Universe’s inventory of contents.

It seems there is slightly more matter out there (31.7%) and slightly less “dark energy” (68.3%), the mysterious component thought to be driving the cosmos apart at an accelerating rate.

“I would imagine for [most people] it might look like a dirty rugby ball or a piece of modern art,” said Cambridge University’s George Efstathiou, presenting the new picture here at Esa headquarters in Paris.

“But I can assure you there are cosmologists who would have hacked our computers or maybe even given up their children to get hold of this map, we’re so excited by it.”

Planck is the third western satellite to study the CMB. The two previous efforts – COBE and WMAP – were led by the US space agency (Nasa). The Soviets also had an experiment in space in the 1980s that they called Relikt-1.

How Planck’s view hints at new physics

Planck anomalies graphic
  • The CMB’s temperature fluctuations are put through a number of statistical analyses
  • Deviations can be studied as a function of their size on the sky – their angular scale
  • When compared to best-fit Big Bang models, some anomalies are evident
  • One shows the fluctuations on the biggest scales to be weaker than expected
  • Theorists will need to adjust their ideas to account for these features

The CMB is the light that was finally allowed to spread out across space once the Universe had cooled sufficiently to permit the formation of hydrogen atoms – about 380,000 years into the life of the cosmos.

It still bathes the Earth in a near-uniform glow at microwave frequencies, and has a temperature profile that is just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.

But it is possible to detect minute deviations in this signal, and these fluctuations – seen as mottling in the map – are understood to reflect the differences in the density of matter when the light parted company and set out on its journey all those years ago.

The fluctuations can be thought of as the seeds for all the structure that later developed in the cosmos – all the stars and galaxies.

Scientists subject the temperature deviations to a range of statistical analyses, which can then be matched against theoretical expectations.

This allows them to rule in some models to explain the origin and evolution of the cosmos, while ruling out a host of others.

The team that has done this for Planck’s data says the map is an elegant fit for the standard model of cosmology – the idea that the Universe started in a hot, dense state in an incredibly small space, and then expanded and cooled.

At a fundamental level, it also supports an “add-on” to this Big Bang theory known as inflation, which postulates that in the very first moments of its existence the Universe opened up in an exponential manner – faster than light itself.

But because Planck’s map is so much more detailed than anything previously obtained, it is also possible to see some anomalies in it.

Temperature anomalies in Planck data
Planck has confirmed the north/south differences and a “cold spot” in the data

One is the finding that the temperature fluctuations, when viewed across the biggest scales, do not match those predicted by the standard model. Their signal is a bit weaker than expected.

Continue reading the main story

Planck’s new numbers

  • 4.9% normal matter – atoms, the stuff from which we are all made
  • 26.8% dark matter – the unseen material holding galaxies together
  • 68.3% dark energy – the mysterious component accelerating cosmic expansion
  • The number for dark energy is lower than previously estimated
  • The new age – 13.82 billion years – results from a slower expansion
  • This is described by value known as the Hubble Constant
  • It also has been recalculated at at 67.15 km per second, per megaparsec

There appears also to be an asymmetry in the average temperatures across the sky; the southern hemisphere is slightly warmer than the north.

A third significant anomaly is a cold spot in the map, centred on the constellation Eridanus, which is much bigger than would be predicted.

These features have been hinted at before by Planck’s most recent predecessor – Nasa’s WMAP satellite – but are now seen with greater clarity and their significance cemented.

A consequence will be the binning of many ideas for how inflation propagated, as the process was first introduced in the 1980s as a way to iron out such phenomena.

The fact that these delicate features are real will force theorists to finesse their inflationary solutions and possibly even lead them to some novel physics on the way.

“Inflation doesn’t predict that it should leave behind any kind of history or remnant, and yet that’s what we see,” Planck project scientist Dr Jan Tauber told BBC News.

Continue reading the main story

CMB – The ‘oldest light’ in the Universe

Detail of CMB data
  • Theory says 380,000 years after the Big Bang, matter and light “decoupled”
  • Matter went on to form stars and galaxies; the light spread out and cooled
  • The light – the CMB – now washes over the Earth at microwave frequencies
  • Tiny deviations from this average glow appear as mottling in the map (above)
  • These fluctuations reflect density differences in the early distribution of matter
  • Their pattern betrays the age, shape and contents of the Universe, and more

 

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