James Le Mesurier during training exercises in southern Turkey, March 19, 2015 (AP)
James Le Mesurier, who helped organize Syria’s civil defense The White Helmets, was found dead in the Turkish capital Istanbul on Monday.
The body of Le Mesurier, 48, was discovered near his apartment at around 4.30 am. Turkish media said that, with fractures to his head and legs, he appeared to have fallen from a balcony.
A “security source” told Reuters that the death is being treated as suspected suicide; however, speculation across social media wondered if the former British army officer was thrown off the balcony.
The White Helmets and Le Mesurier have been the targets of a sustained campaign of propaganda and vilification since the organization was founded in 2013. The disinformation has supported Russia and the Assad regime, who have tried to destroy the rescue service as part of the assault on services and infrastructure in opposition-held areas.
The White Helmets, with more than 3,000 volunteers, have saved more than 100,000 lives amid Russian and regime air and ground assaults. More than 200 rescuers have been killed, many of them by “double tap” bombings targeting rescuers responding to initial attacks.
As the White Helmets continue to operation in northwest Syria — where more than 1,000 civilians have been killed and thousands wounded by a Russia-regime offensive since late April — Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pushed more disinformation last week:
#Zakharova: The White Helmets’ co-founder, James Le Mesurier, is 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. pic.twitter.com/Fa7JTuP39Z
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) November 8, 2019
Le Mesurier founded Mayday Rescue, a not-for-profit group which organised and trained the White Helmets. He told the BBC in 2014:
These are ordinary individuals. 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.
Mayday Rescue said in a statement, “We ask that James be remembered as what he was: a great leader, a visionary, and a dear colleague and friend,” it said.
The Syrian Civil Defense family extends its deepest condolences to the James family, and we express our deepest sorrow and solidarity with his family. As we also must commend his humanitarian efforts which Syrians will always remember. pic.twitter.com/t8IvpIhyFV
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) November 11, 2019
As news of the death spread, tributes poured in from humanitarian workers, activists, and Syrians. Kristyan Benedict of Amnesty International wrote, “James Le Mesurier helped save the lives of thousands of Syrian civilians whilst being constantly smeared by backers of Assad’s murderous regime.”
Journalist Janine di Giovanni summarized:
Terrible news. James was funny, smart, brave,committed. He stood up to bullies. On the right side of history. Believed in the #WhiteHelmets, their mission, their drive for good. A loss to humanity. @lemesurierjames @SyriaCivilDef @AliVelshi @AymanM @VanessaBeeley @MaydayRescue https://t.co/hWjvOF7QHm
— Janine di Giovanni (@janinedigi) November 11, 2019
The BBC’s Nicola Kelly:
So many memories flooding back of my time working with James in Istanbul. We ran training courses for Aleppo’s police force, made a radio programme broadcast into Damascus and printed leaflets to be dropped to young kids warning them not to touch IEDs. #JamesLeMesurier https://t.co/n4G2G7CZkb
— Nicola Kelly (@NicolaKelly) November 11, 2019