A senior British politician has said that he is “deeply concerned” to hear about the death of a co-founder and significant supporter of the Syrian White Helmets group on Sunday. Tom Tugendhat added that he has urged an investigation into the incident, while suggesting the possibility of Russian involvement.
The comments by the outgoing Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee come a day after James Gustaf Edward Le Mesurier was found dead on the street outside his home in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul in the early hours of yesterday morning.
According to the Financial Times, Tugendhat said, “His heroic work in defence of human rights in Syria has sadly made him many enemies, and Russian officials have frequently accused him of links to terrorist organisations.”
The linking of Le Mesurier’s death to Russia’s enmity against both him and the White Helmets comes after “unimaginable pressure and targeting as a result” of the work that the group has done in Syria to save civilian lives and document the war crimes of the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Russia is an ally of the regime. The White Helmets have been accused for years by Russia and pro-Assad media of being a front for Western intervention to undermine the Syrian regime, as well as sympathising with Daesh and jihadi groups.
Le Mesurier was a former officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. He was the founder and director of the Mayday Rescue group based in Istanbul and Amsterdam, which supports the White Helmets in their humanitarian and medical missions in Syria.
Mayday Rescue was established in 2014 and has received funding from a number of international bodies, such as the UN and foreign governments, including Britain’s. The group itself says that 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 Turkish police suspect that the cause of Le Mesurier’s death was falling from his balcony, but the investigation is still underway; Tugendhat has called on British officials to participate. Following his death, Le Mesurier’s wife, who lived with him in Istanbul, said that her husband had recently started to take psychiatric medication and sleeping pills due to a stress disorder. His fall happened early in the morning while she was asleep.
If Tugendhat’s suspicions about the link to Russia are found to be true, it would be the latest assassination or attempted assassination by Moscow’s agents on foreign soil. Russia, for example, is blamed for the attempted assassination of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury in 2018.