Profiles: Killing Arafat

An introduction to the most prominent figures in Al Jazeera’s Killing Arafat investigation.

Suha Arafat
Widow of Yasser Arafat, who she married in 1990


Suha Arafat was born in Jerusalem in 1963 but raised in Nablus and later in Ramallah by her father, an affluent banker, and her mother, a prominent activist, journalist and poet.

Raised a Catholic, Suha was influenced by her mother’s political activism for the Palestinian cause and from the age of 18 moved to Paris to study while living with one of her sisters.

During her time as a student in France, Suha organised demonstrations for the Palestinian cause, as a leader in the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS).

Suha, her sisters and mother already knew Arafat when he came for a visit to France in 1989, during which Suha acted as an interpreter at meetings with French officials.

Shortly after the visit, Suha was asked to work for Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in exile in Tunis.

On July 17, 1990, at the age of 27, she secretly married Arafat (61) after she converted to Islam. Their only child, Zahwa, was born in July 1995 in France and was named after Arafat’s mother.

Shortly after the death of Arafat in 2004, Suha was accused of blocking an autopsy on his body to determine the cause of death. However, Suha refuted the accusation, saying she was never approached with such a request and that at the time, it did not occur to her to have one performed.

In 2012, Suha gave the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit a bag containing personal effects that were with Arafat in France at the time of his death. The results of the preliminary analysis showed elevated levels of polonium in blood, sweat and urine stains on Arafat’s clothing; a finding that prompted Suha to request an official murder inquiry in France, and the exhumation of Arafat’s body for further investigation.

Dr Patrice Mangin
Director of the University Center of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland


As one of the world’s leading forensic toxicologists and pathologists, Dr. Patrice Mangin graduated from the faculty of medicine at the University René Descartes Paris in 1973 and wrote his PhD thesis in toxicology at the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg in 1985.

In 1990, he was appointed as director of the Institute of legal and social medicine at the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg and is, since 1996, the director of the Institute of legal medicine at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Mangin was the lead pathologist of the team that examined the body of Salah Addin Ali Ahmed Al-Salami, a Yemeni who died in custody at Guantanamo Bay in June, 2006.

US authorities claimed Al Salami committed suicide by hanging himself but Mangin established that a US medical team had retained the organs of Ahmed’s throat, which he needed to examine to determine whether Al Salami indeed died by hanging.

Dr Francois Bochud
Director of the Institute of Radiophysics in Lausanne, Switzerland


The study of Yasser Arafat’s medical file and belongings was carried out by scientists of the Institute of Radiophysics in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is affiliated with the city’s University Hospital.

Its Centre of Legal Medicine is considered one of the best forensic pathology labs in the world.

It has studied evidence for the United Nations in East Timor and the International Criminal Court in the former Yugoslavia. It investigated the death of Princess Diana, among other well-known personalities.

As director of the Institute of Radiophysics, Dr Francois Bochud headed up a team of scientists whose tests revealed that biological samples on Arafat’s final personal effects – his clothes, his toothbrush, a fur hat and even his iconic kaffiyeh – contained abnormal levels of the radioactive element polonium.

They were variously stained with Arafat’s blood, sweat, saliva and urine. Bochud’s tests suggested that there was a high level of polonium inside his body when he died.

“I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” Bochud told Al Jazeera.

He also urged Ms Arafat to seek an exhumation of her former husband in order to discover the truth.

“I think the only way now if she really wants to know what really happened to her husband is to find a sample – I mean, an exhumation from Mr Arafat – provide us with a sample that should have a very high quantity of Polonium if he was poisoned,” Bochud told Al Jazeera.

Forensic scientist and investigator


Dave Barclay is a veteran forensic investigator who specialises in the assessment of physical evidence in murder cases.

Currently attached to the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and the University of Hull, Barclay is an advisory board member of the US-funded International Homicide Investigators Association, Barclay has been a forensic scientist accredited by the UK Home Office from 1972.

From 1996 until his retirement in 2005, Barclay was head of physical evidence at the National Crime and Operations Faculty (NCOF). It is an organisation funded by the UK police to provide expertise support in complex violent crimes, such as serial rapes, stranger-murders and the killing of children or vulnerable adults.

During his time at the NCOF, Barclay reviewed more than 230 undetected murder cases in the UK and worldwide.

Barclay has published and lectured extensively on these cases, and has given keynote lectures as scientific advisor to the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Forensic Science.

Barclay also provides consultancy services to the UK police force and defence solicitors in the assessment of physical evidence in context of the case.

Nasser al-Qudwa
Nephew of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Yasser Arafat Foundation


Nasser al-Qudwa is a nephew of Yasser Arafat and a career diplomat who currently heads up the Yasser Arafat Foundation while living in New York City.

A dentist by training, Qudwa, 60, is a former Palestinian foreign minister who from 1987 until 2005 represented Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) at the United Nations.

After his tenure as PLO representative at the UN, Qudwa continued to become the UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. He later served as deputy to Kofi Annan, who at the time was special envoy to Syria for the UN.

As a blood relative of Arafat, and also as a member of the Central Committee of Fatah, the majority faction within the PLO, Qudwa wields considerable influence within the movement.

After Al Jazeera broadcast the What Killed Arafat? documentary, Qudwa was quick to oppose the idea of an exhumation of Arafat’s remains.

Speaking on the day the documentary was broadcast, Qudwa told Al Jazeera Arabic, “I believe what Al Jazeera presented is enough. The statements by the Swiss lab and the evidence of certain amounts of polonium is by itself proof of what happened.”

Later, Qudwa was asked why a post-mortem was not performed when Arafat died in 2004.

“I don’t think that we would have gotten the ultimate proof as I call it. It wasn’t a mystery in my mind because, again, there was clear evidence that this was a case of assassination, that Arafat was actually killed by poison. The indications were many.”

He went on to say that Al Jazeera’s documentary had already provided what he believed was the final proof of Arafat’s murder.

“We need only now to move politically to condemn this crime, to hold the Israeli side responsible, to call for bringing to account those who actually made the decision or committed the crime and things of this sort,” Qudwa said.

The findings of the documentary led Suha Arafat, the widow of the Palestinian leader, to ask the Palestinian Authority to exhume her late husband’s body from his grave in Ramallah.

During the exhumation, a Palestinian doctor took a total of 60 samples from Arafat’s remains and distributed twenty each to three different teams.

A French team which is working on a murder investigation, one from Russia which was invited by the Palestinian Authority and the third from Switzerland, which carried out the original study on Arafat’s personal belongings.

Tawfic al-Tirawi
Former Palestinian Authority intelligence chief, currently head of the Palestinian Investigatory Committee on Yasser Arafat’s death


Tawfiq al-Tirawi is the former chief of intelligence of the Palestinian Authority and head of the Palestinian Investigatory Committee on Yasser Arafat’s death.

A long-time Fattah member, Tirawi was already by Arafat’s side when they fought in Lebanon in 1982.

He later became a close confidant of the Palestinian leader and was head of the Intelligence Services Unit in the occupied West Bank when the second intifada started in 2000.

In 2002, Israel declared Tirawi a wanted “terrorist” for allegedly aiding the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades with conducting attacks on Israeli targets.

To escape his arrest, Tirawi found refuge at the besieged Muqata in Ramallah, where he, together with Arafat, was still holed up when Arafat fell violently ill and eventually died in 2004.

Tirawi stayed in the Muqata until 2007, when he got amnesty from the Israelis as a gesture to Mahmoud Abbas, the successor of Arafat as leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Tirawi’s crackdown on Hamas and other armed groups in the West Bank later earned him a reputation of a hard-line mukhabarat (intelligence) leader who often complained to the PA leadership that too little was done by Palestinian security commanders to end lawlessness in the Palestinian territories.

In October 2008, Abbas fired Tirawi as intelligence chief in a bid to appease Hamas during negotiations over Palestinian unity, but kept Tirawi on as a security adviser and head of the Palestinian Security Academy in Jericho.

A year later, at a Fatah conference in Bethlehem, the Palestinian faction took up Tirawi as a member of the party’s Central Committee and appointed him as the head of the newly established committee that is overseeing the Palestinian investigation into Arafat’s death.

As head of this Investigatory Committee, Tirawi has said that he already “has evidence” that Israel was behind Arafat’s death but that it was still necessary to exhume the late Palestinian leader in order to strengthen the accusation.

“I consider this a painful necessity. It is necessary to find the truth in the death of President Yasser Arafat,” Tirawi said shortly before the exhumation in November 2012.

Immediately after the procedure, he said that if the results were positive, the Palestinian Authority would take their case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“All the existing investigations are looking for evidence, in order to take whoever is behind this assassination to the International Criminal Court.”

However, on May 1 the Jerusalem Post quoted the PA Foreign Minister Riyad Malki as saying the Palestinian leadership had pledged to freeze its efforts to join the ICC.

The move, he said, was aimed at “proving our good intentions and belief in making relentless efforts to achieve peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution”.

Nabil Shaath
Diplomat and negotiator, Palestinian Authority’s first foreign minister from 2003 to 2005


Nabil Shaath is a Palestinian diplomat and negotiator who served as the Palestinian Authority’s first foreign minister from 2003 to 2005.

Known for his diplomatic skills, Shaath was born in 1938 in Safad west of the Golan Heights, and was educated in Egypt and the US where he received a PhD in economics.

Shaath started his political career in 1970 when he joined the Palestine Liberation Organisation and served as an adviser to Fatah, the majority faction with the PLO.

As a close ally to Yasser Arafat, he accompanied the Palestinian leader in the PLO’s first delegation to the United Nations in 1974.

He also headed the first Palestinian delegation to the UN and served as chair of Palestinian National Council Political Committee.

After his appointment to Fatah’s Central Committee in 1990, Shaath became known as one of the PLO’s leading negotiators. He took part in the Madrid peace talks in 1991 and played an important part in the peace process the led up to the Oslo Accords in 1993.

As Arafat was holed up in the Muqata under Israeli siege, from 2002 until shortly before his death in France in 2004, Shaath served as Arafat’s eyes and ears to the outside world. He travelled freely, often on the Palestinian leader’s behalf.

In 2005, after his two-year post as the PA’s first foreign minister, Shaath was appointed interim prime minister.

Ahmed Qurei had just resigned over Fatah’s defeat in the Palestinian legislative elections. However, Shaath lost the position when Qurei returned to office several days later. 

Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian president


Mahmoud Abbas is the incumbent president of the State of Palestine since 2005, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation since 2004, and the president of the Palestinian Authority since 2005.

Also known as Abu Mazen, Abbas is a founding member of Fatah, one of the main Palestinian factions, and took office as president following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004.

Abbas was known as a moderate who would engage in the peace process, after his four month stint as prime minister in May 2003.

After the Palestinian group Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in 2006 and subsequently took complete control of the Gaza Strip, divisions between the pair have become ever more fraught.

Abbas, who was educated in Russia, was born in 1935 in Galilee in Palestine – now northern Israel – while it was under British control.

He has lived in exile in Syria, Qatar, Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon.

Before becoming president of the state, Abbas worked as head of the group’s national and international relations in the 1980s and undertook a security role in the 1970s.

Known as an intellectual and pragmatist, he is said to have been a key player in initiating the talks that led to the Oslo peace accords between the Palestinians and Israel in 1993.

He has written numerous books and is married to Amina Abbas, with whom he has three sons.

Source : Al Jazeera

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