British co-founder of Syrian White Helmets found dead in Istanbul

11 November 2019, 19:17

James Le Mesurier founded the White Helmets in 2014
James Le Mesurier founded the White Helmets in 2014. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A former British army officer who co-founded the White Helmets has been found dead in Turkey.

James Le Mesurier was discovered near his home in the Beyoğlu neighbourhood of Istanbul at around 4:30am on Monday morning, Turkish officials have said.

The husband, believed to be in his 40s, was given an OBE in 2016 by the Queen for his work in war-torn Syria.

He helped establish both the White Helmets and the Mayday Rescue Foundation.

Mr Le Mesurier's injured body was found on the street by worshippers on their way to a mosque, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Anadolu's report said police found no evidence of anyone entering or leaving the humanitarian worker's house at the time of the incident.

It also stated that his body was discovered with fractures to his head and legs.

Turkey has launched an investigation into the not-for-profit founder's death but the cause is not yet known.

The Istanbul governor's office said that "comprehensive administrative and judicial investigations into Le Mesurier's death have been initiated."

His wife reportedly told police her husband had been on medication for "intense stress" before the tragedy.

Turkish officials believe he may have fallen to his death.

Mayday Rescue, of which Mr Le Mesurier was CEO, operates throughout the Middle East by training, equipping and assisting volunteer emergency responders in war zones.

They help teach Syria's White Helmets - also known as the Syria Civil Defence - how to deal with incidents such as medical evacuations, search and rescue missions and essential service delivery.

The White Helmets volunteers confirmed the death on their Facebook page, saying: "The family of the Syrian Civil Defence extends its deepest condolences to his family, and we express our deepest sorrow and solidarity with his family, as it is our duty to commend his humanitarian efforts, which the Syrians will always remember."

In 2016, the group was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received the Right Livelihood Award in recognition for "outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians."

Syria's government and its allies, including Russia, oppose the volunteer organisation, accusing them of being terrorists, agents of foreign powers and of staging chemical attacks.

The group of around 3,000 recruits claim to have saved the lives of more than 100,000 people since 2013 and have allegedly documented Syrian government attacks on civilians. They also claim 252 members have been killed, with more than 500 injured.

Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Mr Le Mesurier of being a former British agent who has "been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the Middle East".

"Given the role of the West in undermining stability in these regions, it is not difficult to assume what the British intelligence officer did there," she said.

Speaking in 2014, Mr Le Mesurier claimed the White Helmets consisted of "ordinary individuals."

He said: "Former bakers, former builders, former students who had choices for what they were going to do with their lives within the revolution.

These individuals chose to stay with very little equipment and at the beginning with no training whatsoever to respond to bomb attacks, to respond to shellings and try to save their fellow Syrian civilians.