James Le Mesurier, the British founder of an organization that trains the Syrian White Helmets emergency response group, has been found dead in his home in Istanbul, according to local media reports.
Le Mesurier, a former British army officer, founded the Mayday Rescue Foundation in 2014. The group organizes, trains and equips first responders in conflict zones.
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He was found dead early on Monday near his home in central Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, a neighbour speaking to Reuters said. A diplomat told the news agency the circumstances around his death were unclear.
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 a suspected suicide. A third person, a diplomat, said the circumstances around his death were unclear.
Mayday Rescue, a not-for-profit organization, began its operations in 2014 and established an office in Istanbul in 2015 to support its Syria project. Its projects have been funded by the United Nations and various governments, its website said. Its main role has been to organize the White Helmets group.
Mayday Rescue did not immediately respond to an emailed query about Le Mesurier.
The White Helmets, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, have been credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing by Syrian government and Russian forces in the country’s more than eight-year civil war.
White Helmets members say they are neutral. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers describe them as tools of Western propaganda and Islamist-led insurgents.
Le Mesurier and the White Helmets have both been targets of a sustained disinformation campaign waged by Russian and Syrian authorities.
Just last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused him in a tweet of having “connections to terrorists.”
Speaking to HuffPost U.K. in 2017, Le Mesurier said: “As the founder, I had an idea and got to watch it take shape but the White Helmets themselves are a 100 per cent Syrian organization.
“I am nothing but incredibly proud of what they do on a daily basis in the most extraordinarily circumstances and what they continue to do. These men and women are going out every single day and risking their lives for their families and their communities and that is something that is inspirational.
“How does it make me feel that there are detractors of that? It is a horrible and brutal conflict.”
The British Foreign Office said it is aware of reports of Le Mesurier’s death.
With files from Reuters
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