UK founder of Syrian White Helmets group found dead in Turkey

James Le Mesurier, founder and director of Mayday Rescue. (File/AP)
Updated 12 November 2019

UK founder of Syrian White Helmets group found dead in Turkey

ISTANBUL: James Le Mesurier, the British founder of the Mayday Rescue organization that established and trained Syrian civil defense group the White Helmets, was on Monday found dead in Turkey.

The former British Army officer’s body was discovered near to his apartment in the Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul. According to media reports, he and his wife had recently left their home in Turkey’s Princes’ Islands to undergo anti-stress treatment in Istanbul.

However, the cause of death is not yet known, and Turkish authorities have launched an investigation.

“We have no details about the incident so far. We will wait for a few days and see if this incident will have any repercussions on the performance of the civil defense troops,” Mustafa Hajj Yousuf, head of the White Helmets, told Arab News. 

“We hope that there will be no negative impact on the work of our teams on the ground.”

Yousuf speculated that Le Mesurier’s death could have been the work of organized criminals.

Former intelligence soldier, Le Mesurier, attracted more than 3,000 volunteers to his nonprofit organization to operate and conduct civil defense activities inside opposition-held areas in Syria and predominantly Idlib, the latest bastion of rebels.

The group is known for its search and rescue operations for thousands of victims of Russian and Syrian airstrikes and Le Mesurier was honored by the British Queen for his work in Syria.

In a statement, the White Helmets said: “We have learned with shock and sadness the news of the death of James Le Mesurier, founder and director of the humanitarian organization Mayday Rescue, early on Monday at his home in Tophane, Istanbul. Mayday is one of the institutions supporting the White Helmets.”

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, the White Helmets was funded by the British and German governments as well as US President Donald Trump’s administration after a freezing of funds.

The group also documented war crimes in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons.

Russia considers the White Helmets to be affiliated to terror group Al-Qaeda, and the Russian foreign ministry has been a harsh critic of Le Mesurier.

Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said: “The White Helmets, as an organization in Syria, is well-known for its amazing works to save lives.”

He noted that pro-Assad (Syrian President Bashar) and Russian media had sometimes criticized White Helmets operations in militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) areas.

“Their mission and their vision don’t worry about who control the area. They are concerned with saving the lives of civilians wherever they are. The only thing I care about them is that they risked their lives to save lives,” Saban added.

Halid Abdurrahman, a researcher and analyst on the Middle East and North Africa, said it was still too early to comment on whether Le Mesurier’s death was suicide or murder.

Only three das ago Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, claimed Le Mesurier was a “former agent of Britain’s MI6, who has been spotted all around the world.”

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 12 August 2020

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.