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British backer of Syrian White Helmets found dead in Turkey

The precise details of James Le Mesurier’s death could not be confirmed.

Photo released in February 2019 showing Syrian White Helmet members carrying an injured man from a building in Idlib hit by a shell from Syrian forces.
Photo released in February 2019 showing Syrian White Helmet members carrying an injured man from a building in Idlib hit by a shell from Syrian forces.
Image: AP/PA Archive/PA Images

THE BRITISH FOUNDER of a group that helped establish the Syrian White Helmets rescue organisation has died in Istanbul, his office said today.

The precise details of James Le Mesurier’s death could not be confirmed, and his office did not wish to comment further.

Le Mesurier was a former British Army officer who founded Mayday Rescue, which helped train the White Helmets when the group began its work in 2013.

Local media reports said his body was found with fractures to his legs and head at the foot of his apartment early today. 

Known officially as Syria Civil Defence, the White Helmets are a voluntary search-and-rescue group formed to respond to bombings by Syrian government forces in opposition-controlled parts of Syria.

Le Mesurier told Al Jazeera in 2015 that he had begun training and supporting the organisation in early 2013 alongside Turkish rescue experts, starting with “a single team of 20 people”.

“I was working in Istanbul … and got together with a group of Turkish earthquake rescue volunteers,” he said.

The White Helmets quickly expanded, and are credited with saving tens of thousands of lives during Syria’s conflict.

A documentary about the group won an Academy Award in 2017.

The White Helmets have become a favourite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups. They have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces — claims strongly denied by its supporters.

© AFP 2019  

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