ISTANBUL: The British founder of an organisation that trained the “White Helmets” emergency response group has been found dead in Istanbul, five years after the group was set up to perform rescue work in rebel areas during the Syrian civil war.
The body of James Le Mesurier, founder of the Mayday Rescue group, was found early on Monday near his home in central Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, a neighbour said. The Istanbul Governor’s Office said an investigation had been launched.
A security source told Reuters it was believed that Le Mesurier had fallen from the balcony of his home office and his death was being treated as suspected suicide.
The White Helmets, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, have been credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas hit by bombing by government and Russian forces in Syria’s more than eight-year-old civil war.
White Helmets members say they are neutral. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers, including Moscow, describe them as tools of Western propaganda and insurgents.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter on Friday that the White Helmets help “the most dangerous terrorist groups” and that Le Mesurier was a former British agent with reported “connections to terrorist groups”.
Ambassador Karen Pierce, UK Permanent Representative to the UN, described Le Mesurier as a “true hero” when she was asked about his death by reporters.
“The causes of death at the moment are unclear. We will be looking very closely to see how the investigation goes. I hope the Turkish authorities will be able to investigate thoroughly,” she said.