James Le Mesurier, co-founder of the Syrian Civil Defense aid organization in Syria, also known as the White Helmets, was found dead on Monday near his apartment in Istanbul.
According to reports, Le Mesurier, 48, appeared to have fallen from a balcony and was found with multiple fractures in his head and legs. The Istanbul Governor’s Office said “comprehensive administrative and judicial investigations” into his death were underway.
“The family of the Syrian Civil Defense extends its deepest condolences to his family, and we express our deepest sorrow and solidarity with his family, as it is our duty to commend his humanitarian efforts, which the Syrians will always remember,” the Syrian Civil Defense wrote on its Facebook page.
Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Le Mesurier of being a former British intelligence agent who was “spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the Middle East.”
“Given the role of the West in undermining stability in these regions, it is not difficult to assume what the British intelligence officer did there,” Zakharova said.
Le Mesurier founded Mayday Rescue, a nonprofit group that organized and trained the Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer disaster-response organization that has saved thousands of lives in the aftermath of Russian and Syrian government attacks during the Syrian civil war. The organization’s members wore white construction helmets, which gave the group its nickname.
“These are ordinary individuals,” Le Mesurier said in a 2014 interview with BBC. “Former bakers, former builders, former students who had choices for what they were going to do with their lives within the revolution.”
The White Helmets documented evidence of war crimes, including chemical weapons attacks, in addition to pulling civilians from rubble after airstrikes on buildings. The organization was the target of an online Russian disinformation campaign that painted its members as Al Qaeda operatives.