A former British army officer who helped found the White Helmets volunteer organization in Syria was found dead in Istanbul early Monday, Turkish officials and the group said. James Le Mesurier's body was found near his home in the Beyoglu district, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. The Istanbul governor's office said investigations had been initiated into Le Mesurier's death, the AP reports. Anadolu said police established that no one had entered or left his home, and they said he may have fallen to his death. The White Helmets confirmed his death on its Facebook page. Le Mesurier was the founder and CEO of May Day Rescue, which started and trained the White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, a group of local humanitarian volunteers. He was 48 and had moved to Turkey with his wife four years ago, Anadolu said.
Karen Pierce, Britain's ambassador to the UN, called Le Mesurier a "true hero" and humanitarian. "He really deserves our respect," she said, adding that the White Helmets have "saved countless of people from the ravages of (Syrian President Bashar) Assad's forces and paramilitaries." The Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, have been critical of the White Helmets, accusing them of being agents of foreign powers, terrorists working in rebel-controlled areas, and of staging chemical attacks. The group, which has had more than 3,000 volunteers in opposition-held areas, says it has saved thousands of lives since 2013 and documented Syrian government attacks on civilians. It was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. The White Helmets say more than 500 of its members have been injured and 252 killed, per the BBC. (Members of the group were evacuated from Syria last year.)