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The White Helmets have played a major role in the Syrian civil war.

The Guardian notes that “the group, made up of more than 3,000 volunteers, operates inside opposition-held areas in Syria and has been credited with saving the lives of thousands of people affected by Russian and Syrian airstrikes and bombings.”

Russia says the White Helmets are a front for Western intelligence services. From behind the Financial Times paywall:

[James] Le Mesurier and the organisation he founded had come under fresh attack in recent days from Moscow. Russia has long accused the White Helmets — the informal name of the group known as the Syrian Civil Defence — of being a project by western intelligence services to undermine its ally Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president.

On Friday, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman repeated a claim that Le Mesurier was a former agent with the British intelligence service MI6 and said Moscow would “very much want to hear what London has to say about these facts,” according to a report by Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news outlet. Le Mesurier had previously denied being a former MI6 officer. 

The Guardian says Le Mesurier was a soldier and then a security consultant before founding the White Helmets. The U.K. news site has previously documented how the White Helmets have been the target of a disinformation campaign, conducted with the support of the Russian government, that positions it as an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organisation.

Source: British co-founder of White Helmets found dead in Istanbul | Financial Times