A prominent supporter of the White Helmets organisation – officially known as Syria Civil Defence – was found dead in the Turkish city of Istanbul today.
James Le Mesurier, the founder and director of the Mayday Rescue group based in Istanbul and Amsterdam which supports the White Helmets, died in the Kemankes Karamustafapasa neighbourhood of the city, the governor of Istanbul said in a statement.
Raed Al-Saleh, director of the White Helmets, told the US-based news organisation CNN that the group had been informed of Le Mesurier’s death today, stating that “We received the reports of the death of our friend James with sorrow, he was the director of Mayday Rescue organization which is one of the main supporters for the White Helmets.”
A friend of Le Mesurier, freelance journalist Oz Katerji, also reported that Le Mesurier’s wife informed him that he fell from their balcony while she was asleep. “His wife did not suspect foul play,” Katerji said, “but she was asleep so can’t confirm that 100%.”
Regarding the possibility of manslaughter or a criminal act, he added: “The balcony was not high off the ground though and that police haven’t ruled out foul play yet.”
Le Mesurier’s Mayday group was established in 2014 and has received funding from a number of international bodies such as the UN and foreign governments including the UK.
According to the group, it has “trained, equipped and managed networks of local volunteers who have provided life-saving support to hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in conflicts.”
The White Helmets itself began as a volunteer rescue operation in 2013 and was founded and trained by a retired British officer, with the primary aim of filling the void left by the official emergency services in Syria following the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.
It regularly carries out search and rescue operations for victims of bombings and air strikes by the Syrian Assad regime and Russia. Despite its purely humanitarian and medical work, however, the White Helmets has been frequently maligned in recent years, with pro-Assad and Russian media labelling the group as Daesh sympathisers, supporters of “Islamist” militias, and agents of Western interference.