Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has accused the CIA and ‘Western intelligence’ services of being behind the death of James Le Mesurier, the British co-founder of the White Helmets civil defence group.
The Syrian dictator used an interview with Russian state media to claim the Turkish intelligence services may have carried out the killing on behalf of the West.
The 48-year-old was found dead at 5.30am on Monday morning after apparently falling from a third floor ledge at an apartment above his office in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul.
But Assad linked his death to Western secret services and claimed the killing was carried out in a similar fashion to that of paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who was found hanged in his Manhattan jail cell in August awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Emma Winberg, wife of Le Mesurier, said her husband had suicidal thoughts two weeks before he fell to his death, she told police yesterday.
Ms Winberg has now been banned from leaving Turkey until the investigation ends in case authorities need to speak to her again, according to Turkish media.
Police are treating Le Mesurier’s death as suicide and there is no indication that Ms Winberg is a suspect.
But Assad had another theory and told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti as well as TV channel Rossiya 24: ‘Of course, this is the work of intelligence services.
British White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier (pictured) had suicidal thoughts two weeks before he fell to his death in Turkey, his wife has reportedly told police
Le Mesurier’s wife Emma Winberg (pictured right in Istanbul) yesterday gave a three-hour statement to Turkish police, who are treating the White Helmets founder’s death as suicide
‘We are talking about Western intelligence as a whole, about Turkish and some others [operating] in our region.
‘These are not intelligence services of sovereign states but units of the key intelligence service – the CIA.’
Assad went on to claim the White Helmets were part of Al-Qaeda and that Le Mesurier was killed for knowing ‘very important secrets’.
He claimed: ‘In order not to talk about this incident separately, it is better to consider it with similar events.
‘American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was killed a few weeks ago. It was said that he committed suicide in prison.
‘But he was killed because he knew quite a few very important secrets related to important persons in the British and American regimes and, possibly, in other countries.
‘A key person in the White Helmets was in Germany and was killed in prison.
‘It was said that he committed suicide. Now the main founder of White Helmets was killed.
Circled: The balcony where James Le Mesurier is believed to have fallen to his death in Istanbul in the early hours of Monday morning
President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with Russian TV in Damascus in a separate interview earlier this month
‘He is an officer and all his life worked with NATO in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and Lebanon, after which he founded White Helmets in Syria.
‘So how is this person associated with humanitarian activities, which, like It was said, he was engaged in in White Helmets?
‘We and you know that they, of course, are a part of Al-Qaeda.’
The Syrian dictator has speciously told pro-Kremlin state media outlet RT in which he accused the US of working with Turkey and ISIS to plunder Syria’s oil resources.
He also claimed the slain leaders of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were working for the US and were killed because they had ‘completed their missions’.
Turkish police are now analysing records from a hospital where Le Mesurier sought help for mental health issues, the DHA news agency said.
Le Mesurier, whom Russia had accused of being a spy just days before he died, had reportedly sought medical help for stress and was using sleeping pills and antidepressants.
The former British Army officer went to hospital with high blood pressure just over 24-hours before he was found dead outside his apartment in Istanbul.
He had appeared ‘tense’ and ‘stressed’ and complained of feeling unwell on Saturday at his weekend home on the island of Buyukada, an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from the Turkish capital.
Gul Fayzullaeva, his housekeeper on the island at the impressive £1000-a-month rented home on Buyukada, dismissed Russian claims her boss was a MI6 spy as ‘nonsense’.
She said the couple spent the weekend on the island before heading back to their Istanbul apartment on Sunday morning.
The coffin of James Le Mesurier is loaded onto a Turkish Airlines jet at Istanbul’s airport on Wednesday evening for its flight to London
Turkish police officers, pictured outside Le Mesurier’s home earlier this week, have reportedly banned his wife from leaving the country until their investigation is complete
The previous day, she said Le Mesurier had been off his food and had blood pressure of 160/120 which prompted him to go to the Buyukada Merkez, a medical centre a ten minute walk from his home.
There he was given an injection and a pill to lower his blood pressure enough for him to return home later in the evening.
Ms Fayzullaeva told MailOnline: ‘James was not himself on Saturday, he was tense and stressed about something.
‘I couldn’t tell what was worrying him but he said he didn’t feel very well and didn’t have any dinner that evening.
‘I measured his blood pressure and it was 160/120. He was concerned enough to go to the hospital.
‘They gave him an injection and a pill and he came home later that night.
‘When I went out to smoke about 11pm, I looked up at his bedroom window and saw that he and Emma had gone to bed as their light was off.
‘The next morning they both went back to Istanbul as normal. But that was the last time I saw them both.’
Now Le Mesurier’s wife has apparently told police that he had suicidal thoughts 15 days before his death.
Ms Fayzullaeva also said that Le Mesurier had problems sleeping of late.
She added: ‘Emma told me that he had started taking tablets to help him sleep as he couldn’t seem to rest properly at night.
A Turkish police officer leaves the scene of the Mayday Rescue offices on Monday following the discovery of the body of the organisation’s founder
A funeral vehicle carrying James Le Mesurier’s body after he was found dead in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district. The vehicle is seen on its way to Istanbul Airport after an autopsy
‘When he went to the hospital on Saturday, he asked for sleeping tablets but the doctor said they didn’t have any there and if needed them he’d need to get them on the mainland.
‘I wouldn’t have known had she not told me as he looked in good health and was physically quite fit.’
According to an account given to police by Ms Winberg, he had gone to sleep at 2.30am on Monday but awoke at 4.30am.
She said that he gave her a sleeping pill with a glass of water and they both went to bed.
However, just an hour later Ms Winberg was woken up by police after her husband’s body was found lying on the street outside.
Ms Fayzullaeva, who also lives in the home on Buyukada and looks after the property when they are away, suggested he could have fallen out of the balcony while smoking.
She said: ‘I’ve rang Emma twice to see how she is but she hasn’t picked up the phone.
‘I don’t want to bother her too much because she is grieving, she must be devastated. They were a close couple. Very affectionate with one another.
‘When James stayed here in Buyukada he used to smoke out on the balcony so he could have done the same in Istanbul.
‘Perhaps he went out onto the ledge to smoke and fell. Maybe he was drowsy from taking a sleeping pill.
‘I don’t know what happened but I don’t think he was a spy and I don’t think that had anything to do with his death.
‘The claims made by the Russians are nonsense. He wasn’t part of MI6.
The third floor balcony at Le Mesurier’s apartment in Istanbul where he was said to have fallen
A police officer stands at the site after former British army officer who helped found the White Helmets volunteer organisation in Syria
‘He didn’t have any Russian friends over to the house. I’d know as I’m originally from Uzbekistan and speak Russian. He was a really nice man and treated me very well
‘James and Emma rented this house and lived here over the weekends. They had their wedding party here last year.
‘They socialised quite a lot. People would come and stay with them for a few days, mainly British people.
‘Their two daughters aged 10 and nine sometimes come and stay but they don’t live here full time. I think they might be at school in the UK.’
The body was found near his home in the Beyoglu district by worshippers on their way to a mosque, according to reports in Turkey.
The Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said an autopsy and other procedures were underway at Istanbul’s Forensic Medicine Institute to determine ‘the exact cause’ of his death.
It said police were still in the process of gathering security camera recordings near the scene and assessing them.
The palatial 100-year-old home, overlooking the sea, where Le Mesurier spent the weekends is set behind gates and has a sprawling, well-maintained back garden.
Locals on Buyukada, where cars are largely banned and the most popular mode of transport is horse and cart, say that the white wooden home is near to the house where Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived in exile in the late 1920s and early 30s.
Swedish citizen, Emma Winberg, the widow of James Le Mesurier, leaving the Gayrettepe police station in Istanbul yesterday
Le Mesurier is said to have kept a low profile, not really mixing with others, but who was seen jogging occasionally around the island.
It emerged today that police have spoken to another housekeeper, known only as Merih, who is understood to have been present at the apartment in Istanbul at the time of Le Mesurier’s death.
However the staff member was most likely asleep and has not been able to tell police anything about what happened.
Le Mesurier’s body was flown back to Britain and repatriated last night however Turkish media have reported that his wife has been told not to leave Turkey.
James Le Mesurier of Mayday Rescue is seen (above) in 2018. He died on Monday near his home in Istanbul
He is known to have frequented a number of bars and restaurants in a bustling area near his apartment called Karaköy.
One bar worker said: ‘He’d be drinking here quite often after work during the week.
‘He’d go out with colleagues mainly and enjoy the nightlife in the area.
‘At the end of some nights I’d see him go to the Baltazar restaurant and have a burger on his own before heading home.
‘He was a nice man, he didn’t speak much Turkish so we only really exchanged a few pleasantries.’
The bar worker said that he had seen Le Mesurier arguing with a male colleague outside his office ten days before his death.
He said: ‘I don’t know what it was about but there seemed to be a lot of tension and his voice was raised.
‘The two of them were stood on the corner near to where his body was found on Monday morning.
‘A few years ago, he seemed to have quite a few employees, mainly Syrian and French, but more recently there were fewer people working for him at that office.’
A preliminary post mortem report found that Le Mesurier’s death was caused by ‘general trauma’ and there were no signs of a struggle.
Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya told reporters on Tuesday: ‘Our chief prosecutor’s office, our police are engaged in multifaceted efforts to shed light on the incident.’
However, suspicion remains over his death and Amnesty International said on Tuesday that there was a possibility of foul play.
‘Given the long history of smears and accusations made against Le Mesurier and the White Helmets, the possibility of foul play must surely form part of the Turkish authorities’ investigation into his death,’ a spokesman said.
Just days before he died, Mr Le Mesurier was accused of being a spy in a tweet by the Russian Foreign Ministry
Known officially as Syria Civil Defence, the White Helmets are a voluntary search-and-rescue group formed to respond to bombings by Syrian government forces
‘We will be watching the outcome of Turkey’s investigation into Mr Le Mesurier’s death very closely.’
Last week, a top Russian official had alleged Le Mesurier was a spy – a claim Britain strongly denies.
The Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, have been critical of the White Helmets volunteers, accusing them of being agents of foreign powers, terrorists working in rebel-controlled areas and of staging chemical attacks.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed Le Mesurier had ‘been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the Middle East’.
Specialists from Turkey’s Terror and Intelligence Department are now believed to be involved in the case.
The Briton’s coffin was loaded on to a plane in Istanbul and repatriated to the UK on Wednesday.
Le Mesurier was the founder and chief executive of May Day Rescue, which founded and trained the White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defence.
The White Helmets group confirmed his death on its Facebook page, and offered ‘deepest condolences’ to his family.
The group, which has had more than 3,000 volunteers in opposition-held areas, says it has saved thousands of lives since 2013.
It has also documented Syrian government attacks on civilians and other infrastructure.
The group has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Who are Syria’s White Helmets?
Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders that rescues the wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory.
The White Helmets have rescued an estimated 100,000 civilians that were trapped under rubble or caught up in fighting in battered opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria’s seven-year conflict.
Since its formation, when Syria’s conflict was nearing its third year, more than 252 of its volunteers have died and more than 500 have been wounded.
The group’s motto — ‘To save one life is to save all of humanity’ — is drawn from a verse in the Koran, although the White Helmets insist they treat all victims, regardless of religion.
A wounded White Helmets volunteer evacuates his injured colleague following a reported air strike on the rebel-controlled town of Hammuriyeh in 2017
Some members have received training abroad, including in Turkey, returning to instruct colleagues on search-and-rescue techniques.
The group receives funding from a number of governments, including Britain, Germany and the United States, but also solicits individual donations to purchase equipment such as its signature hard hats.
Three years ago, a Netflix production called ‘The White Helmets’ won an Academy Award for best short documentary.
A second film on the group, named ‘Last Men in Aleppo,’ was nominated for an Oscar in 2018.
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