“Distasteful shadow of doubt” in death of White Helmet founder

Russian Government Accused Him of Being a British Spy in Turkey

By Timothy Nerozzi

November 21, 2019

 white ship on body of water

Days after Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called him a “spy,” James Le Mesurier fell to his death in Istanbul. He was a British subject who led the White Helmets humanitarian effort in Syria.

Mesurier fell some 50 feet from the balcony of his apartment at approximately 4 AM local time.  Turkish media featured a photo of Le Mesurier’s body, sprawled on the sidewalk below.

Turkish authorities have listed the cause of death as a burst aorta blood vessel. There has been no independent examination of Mesurier’s cause of death and the Turkish coroner has not released his report. Mesurier’s wife, who was in their home at the time of his death, has not been allowed to leave Turkey until the Turkish investigation ends.

 “The death of Mr. Le Mesurier couldn’t have been better timed to spark conspiracy theories, given the Russian MFA allegations days before,” said John Glj Jacobs, the director of the Atlantic Forum.

“The controversy puts a distasteful shadow of doubt on his death. Combined with the developments in Syria at large, of both Turkey and Russia – the Erdogan regime would do well to use all available resources to investigate his death to clear any doubts,” Jacobs said.

Le Mesurier was one of the co-founders of the Syrian Civil Defense, often referred to the White Helmets. The White Helmets are known for their work in the humanitarian work in the Syrian Civil War, usually operating as search-and-rescue teams for survivors buried by rubble after an aerial bombardment. A documentary titled “The White Helmets”  won an Academy Award in 2016.

However, recent statements from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have ignited theories that his death was not a suicide, but a planned assassination meant to look like a murder.

“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 [Middle East]. His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in [Kosovo],” said Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Twitter last week.

MI6 is the British foreign intelligence service. 

The U.K. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Karen Pierce, categorically denied these accusations. Pierce said that Le Mesurier had been a British soldier and U.N. worker prior to his humanitarian work.

Turkish state-supported media began turning out stories accusing Mesurier of having been a British spy even though the Turkish government-assisted much of his work.

A beggar who frequented the street below Mesurier’s balcony disappeared about the time of the death of the White Helmets leader, according to a Twitter user. While this cannot be independently confirmed, Znews has learned that Turkish security services assigned to watch foreign nationals often work undercover in such roles.

Russia’s suspicions about Le Mesurier began four years earlier.

By late 2014, the Syrian regime was struggling to keep its aged fleet of Soviet aircraft in the skies and often resorted to indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas. The Assad government soon devised “barrel bombs” designed to flatten blocks of Syria’s largest cities. 

In September 2015, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad formally requested assistance in suppressing Syrian rebel forces in the ongoing civil war.

Russian forces responded by sending forces to support the regime. Soon Russian bombers were conducting aerial bombings on Syrian cities such as Homs and Hama – the first in what is still an ongoing intervention into the area.

The White Helmets and their associates had previously lobbied the United Nations for the implementation of no-fly zones over parts of Syria to safeguard civilian lives.

Their petition was denied, but James Le Mesurier and his associates continued to protest against Russian intervention. The White Helmets soon became a target of pro-Assad and pro-Russia social media accounts.

Naji al Jerf, an associate of Le Mesurier, was killed on December 27, 2015. Naji, a former Syrian soldier, turned opposition journalist was ordering food for his young family at a restaurant in the Turkish city of Gaziantep – where many Syrian opposition leaders are based. A masked man shot him several times using a gun with a silencer before fleeing in a white car. In 2017, seven White Helmets were shot to death at their base. The attackers, in both incidents, have not yet been identified.

The White Helmets maintain that they are an apolitical, neutral organization.

In 2014, Le Mesurier founded the service foundation known as the Mayday Rescue Foundation, registered in the Netherlands. The organization’s primary operation has been the organization and deployment of volunteers to Syria, eventually fusing with other groups into the less-rigidly structured movement known as the Syria Defense Force, also known as the White Hats.

The nickname comes from the color of the helmets rescuers often wear in hazardous locations.

The White Hats and Le Mesurier’s Mayday Foundation are distinct legal entities, but share office space, meetings, and leadership. The distinction between the two organizations’ actions can be hard to ascertain.

While others in the various organizations Le Mesurier worked in, particularly Syrian refugees, sought to remain mostly anonymous and avoided drawing attention to themselves. Le Mesurier took a different path: he often appeared in press accounts.

Fame was not new for the Le Mesurier family. One of Le Mesurier’s close relatives was the successful comedic actor John Le Mesurier, best known for his role as Sergeant Arthur Wilson in the British television sitcom “Dad’s Army.” Le Mesurier never tired of telling British visitors about his famous relative and to point their similar grey-blue eyes.

In 2016, Le Mesurier received further attention when he was made officer in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his services to Syria Civil Defense, a U.K.-based non-profit that works closely with the White Helmets in rescue operations. 

Le Mesurier’s wife maintains that she did not hear anyone break into their apartment or enter the room where they slept that November evening. She declaims any belief in foul play, adding that her husband was taking anti-depressants.