A former British Army officer who founded the Syrian Rescue group known as the White Helmets has died in Istanbul.A spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense confirmed the death of James Le Mesurier on Monday afternoon and said further details were as of yet unknown.48 year old Le Mesurier was found dead near his apartment in Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighbourhood at around 4:30am.
The Turkish have reported that his body was found with fractures to his skull and legs, suggesting that he had fallen from a balcony.In Istanbul, the Governor’s Office have confirmed that a “comprehensive” investigation has begun, and according to an inside source his death is being treated as suspected suicide.
According to his friends Le Mesurier has endured significant pressure for years, both from the Syria-backed attacks on his reputation and the overall stress of running a high-profile NGO.
After leaving the British Army, Le Mesurier founded Mayday Rescue, a non-profit group that organised and trained the Syrian Civil Defense, known colloquially as the White Helmets.The 3,000 strong group of volunteers, operates inside government-held areas in Syria and has been credited for saving more than 115,000 lives in the wake of Russian and Syrian airstrikes and bombing.Beyond emergency rescues and first aid, the White Helmets have been on the frontline of Syria’s chemical-weapon incidents, helping to document the alleged war crimes.
The White Helmets originated from local volunteer groups in towns and cities across Syria that endured regime bombardment. In an interview in 2014, Le Mesurier told the BBC that he admired their work and wanted to aid their training, fundraising and external support.
“These are 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.”
Alongside the White Helmet casualties, the Russian backed disinformation campaign claiming links with Al-Qaeda, has made it harder for the group to work in certain areas within Syria. Le Mesurier himself was subject to similar campaigns, even being condemned by Russia’s foreign ministry as recently as last week.
The Mayday Rescue Organisation is largely funded by the British and German governments. The US had been a major funder contributing to one-third of the NGO’s financial aid until the Trump administration ceased American contributions in 2018 without public explanation. However US funding resumed last month in the wake of the steep criticism against the withdrawal of US troops from north-eastern Syria.
In a statement, Mayday Rescue said that Le Mesurier had dedicated his life to helping civilians, especially in Syria. “We ask that James be remembered as what he was: a great leader, a visionary, and a dear colleague and friend,” it said.