A former British army officer and military contractor who founded the shadowy ‘White Helmets’ has been found dead near his home in Istanbul, days after he was accused by Russia of being a spy with “connections to terrorist groups.”
The body of 43-year-old James Le Mesurier was found Monday in the Beyoglu district of the city, with state-run Anadolu news agency reporting that he may have fallen to his death.
The White Helmets, a roughly 3,000 member NGO formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense, was established in Turkey in “late 2012 – early 2013” Le Mesurier trained an initial group of 20 Syrians. The group then received funding from Le Mesurier’s Netherlands-based non-profit group, Mayday Rescue – which is in turn funded by grants from the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments.
According to reporter and author Max Blumenthal, the White Helmets received at least $55 million from the British Foreign Office and $23 million from the Agency for International Development. They have also received millions from Qatar, which has backed several extremist groups in Syria including Al Qaeda.
The US has provided at least $32 million to the group – around 1/3 of their total funding – through a USAID scheme orchestrated by the Obama State Department and routed overseas using a Washington D.C. contractor participating in USAID’s Syria regional program, Chemonics.
Notably, the Trump administration cut US funding to the White Helmets last May, placing them under “active review.”
While the White Helmets tout themselves as ‘first responders’, the group has been accused of staging multiple chemical attacks – including an April 7 incident in Duma, Syria which the White House used as a pretext to bomb Syrian government facilities and bases.
Blumenthal writes, “When Defense Secretary James Mattis cited ‘social media’ in place of scientific evidence of a chemical attack in Duma, he was referring to video shot by members of the White Helmets. Similarly, when State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert sought to explain why the US bombed Syria before inspectors from the OPCW could produce a report from the ground, she claimed, ‘We have our own intelligence.’ With little else to offer, she was likely referring to social media material published by members of the White Helmets.“
Days before Mesurier’s death, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed he was a “former agent of Britain’s MI6, who had been spotted all around the world.”