The White Helmets organization confirmed to Israeli public broadcaster KAN that the group’s founder James Le Mesurier was found dead in his home in Istanbul.
Sözcü, a major Turkish daily newspaper, reported, citing police sources, that Le Mesurier may have killed himself, and that he had been taking anti-depressant medication for some time ahead of Monday’s incident.
According to the newspaper’s sources, the incident was thought to have occurred around 5:30. Le Mesurier’s wife was said to have opened the door to police when they arrived at the scene.
Police are investigating the incident.
Le Mesurier, a British private security specialist and former UK military intelligence officer, founded the White Helmets in Turkey in March 2013. Before that, he served as an intelligence officer in other theatres of conflict, including a stint in Pristina, Kosovo soon after the NATO intervention in 1999.
In a 2014 interview, Le Mesurier stated that he quickly raised about $300,000 in initial funding from the UK, the US and other countries to create the White Helmets, with the group soon accumulating over $100 million in cash after Western NGOs, [Persian] Gulf countries, several European countries and Japan sent money and supplies to help the group.
Syria considers the White Helmets a “terrorist organisation”, citing the group’s regular operations in areas controlled by militants, including al-Qaeda offshoot the Nusra Front, as well as its creation of video fakes which seem designed to prompt Western military intervention in Syria.
In April 2018, the US, UK and France launched a series of air and cruise missile strikes against Syria following the publication of a White Helmets video appearing to show that a horrific chemical attack that had taken place in Douma, a city in the Damascus suburbs about 10 km from the capital. The Douma attack was later debunked by verified testimony from multiple eyewitnesses who appeared in the video, including that of an 11-year-old boy who revealed that he and his mother had been given food to participate in the fake clip.
Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry urged London to investigate Le Mesurier’s possible ties to al-Qaeda. At a briefing on Friday, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed to research indicating the former spy’s possible links to terrorist organisations going back to his work in Kosovo.
“There is data suggesting that there were al-Qaeda members among his team there,” Zakharova said, adding that Moscow would “very much like to hear what London has to say about these facts”.