World

British founder of Syrian White Helmets found dead in Turkey

AFP-JIJI

The British founder of a group that helped establish the Syrian White Helmets rescue organization has died in Istanbul, his office said on Monday.

Anadolu Agency said James Le Mesurier’s body was found early Monday near his home in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district by worshippers on their way to a mosque to pray.

An investigation has been launched into his death, Anadolu said, adding that police believe he may have fallen to his death.

Police had established that no one had entered or left his home at the time of his death, Anadolu reported.

Reports indicated that his body was found with fractures to his legs and head at the foot of his apartment early on Monday.

Known officially as Syria Civil Defence, the White Helmets are a voluntary search-and-rescue group formed to respond to bombings by Syrian government forces in opposition-controlled parts of Syria.

Le Mesurier told Al Jazeera in 2015 that he had begun training and supporting the organization in early 2013 alongside Turkish rescue experts, starting with “a single team of 20 people.”

“I was working in Istanbul … and got together with a group of Turkish earthquake rescue volunteers,” he said.

The White Helmets quickly expanded, and are credited with saving tens of thousands of lives during Syria’s conflict.

A documentary about the group won an Academy Award in 2017.

The White Helmets have become a favorite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups. They have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces — claims strongly denied by its supporters.

Just three days ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted about Le Mesurier, describing him as “a former agent of Britain’s MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the #Balkans and the #MiddleEast. “His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in #Kosovo.”