On Monday morning, James Le Mesurier, the founder of Mayday Rescue, a charity that supported and trained the White Helmets, the Syrian civil defense group, was found dead in Istanbul. His body was found outside a building in the Beyoglu district where he had an apartment and office. It is unclear whether Mr. Le Mesurier, who was 48 and healthy, fell or was pushed from the balcony of his apartment. The Turkish authorities have started an investigation.
Mr. Le Mesurier, a former British Army officer, had worked in Iraq and Kosovo before turning his attention to Syria. He was committed to ensuring war-torn communities learn how to take care of themselves when no one else was coming to save them. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2016 for his work.
The White Helmets are emergency medical workers. They have, according to their own estimate, rescued about 115,000 people and lost more than 250 of their own volunteers — they have a high chance of being killed themselves when they rush to the scene of a bombing. This was the world the funny, smart, brave and principled Mr. Le Mesurier worked in.
His work earned him many detractors, including Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Three days before his mysterious death, Ms. Zakharova claimed that Mr. Le Mesurier was a “former agent of Britain’s MI6, who has been spotted all around the world.”
Most foreign correspondents, humanitarian workers and United Nations officials frequently get landed with the sobriquet. There is no evidence that Mr. Le Mesurier was a spy.
I saw him as a humanitarian who accomplished enormous feats in alleviating the suffering of civilians in Syria. I first encountered him after spending time in Aleppo during the terrible days and nights of fierce aerial bombardment, where barrel bombs were dropped on the city by the Syrian regime’s jets. [Continue reading…]