Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waded into the conspiracy theories around Jeffery Epstein's suicide, saying the financier and convicted sex offender was murdered as part of a Western plot to eliminate high-profile people who knew too much.
Speaking to Russia's state-run Rossiya-24 station Thursday, Assad commented on the death of Syria Civil Defense co-founder James Le Mesurier, who died Monday after an apparent fall from his Istanbul apartment. Assad and his supporters have repeatedly alleged that Le Mesurier's organization, commonly known as the White Helmets, were not a rescue group but militant operatives working on behalf of his foes, including the United States and the United Kingdom, which he speculated—without providing evidence—may have been behind a spat of apparent assassinations.
"American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was killed several weeks ago, they said he had committed suicide in jail. However, he was killed because he knew a lot of vital secrets connected with very important people in the British and American regimes, and possibly in other countries as well," Assad told the outlet, as translated by the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
"And now the main founder of the White Helmets has been killed, he was an officer and he had worked his whole life with NATO in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and Lebanon," he added. "Both of us know that they [representatives of the White Helmets] are naturally part of Al-Qaeda. I believe that these people, as well as the previously liquidated [Osama] bin Laden and [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi had been killed chiefly because they knew major secrets. They turned into a burden once they had played out their roles. A dire need to do away with them surfaced after they had fulfilled their roles."
Bin Laden and Baghdadi were killed by Special Operations Forces in May 2011 and October of this year, respectively. While Le Mesurier's death is still being investigated by Turkish authorities, the New York City medical examiner ruled that Epstein's death in August was a suicide—a decision that has done little to dissuade an array of alternative theories as to his demise.
Epstein was known for navigating elite social circles that included the likes of President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and various celebrities as he assumed a number of successive positions in the world of banking and finance. He was first convicted in 2008 of procuring underage prostitutes, but only served just over a year plus house arrest before authorities say the registered sex offender continued to engage in illicit sexual activity with minors.
He was again arrested in July and, later that same month, Epstein was found in his Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center cell with injuries on his neck following an apparent suicide attempt that prompted the facility to place him on a special watch. After it was lifted, the watch should have mandated check-ups every half-hour. However, Epstein was found dead amid what Attorney General William Barrs called "serious irregularities" at the center in which he was being held.
The suspicious circumstances surrounding Epstein's death have since been a highly-debated topic and the subject of countless tongue-in-cheek Internet memes proliferated by individuals from all walks of society. On Wednesday, Republican Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona appeared to weigh in by spelling "Epstein didn't kill himself" using the first letter of a string of 23 otherwise unrelated tweets.
Le Mesurier's death has also prompted talks of conspiracy. Just three days before he was found dead, the Russian Foreign Ministry—an ally of the Syrian government—cited spokesperson Maria Zakharova as calling Le Mesurier "a former agent of Britain's MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the #Balkans and the #MiddleEast." It alleged he had "connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in #Kosovo."
While Le Mesurier did serve in the British Army from 1990 to 2000, there has been no public record of him working with the U.K.'s Secret Intelligence Service. The White Helmets—the subject of an Academy Award-winning 2016 documentary—have long defended their record as rescue workers who "operate in the most dangerous place on earth and have saved more than 100,000 lives over the past five years," doing so "regardless of their religion or politics."
Moscow has also backed Damascus in dispelling claims that the Syrian military has used chemical weapons throughout the country's eight-year civil war against rebels and jihadis. Both governments have often alleged that the White Helmets staged such events as "false flag" attacks intended to draw U.S. and allied intervention against Assad.
Russia, who President Donald Trump thanked for allowing the U.S. to use Syrian airspace under Russian military control, has also cast some doubt as to Baghdadi's death, though his demise was announced by the group days later. In an interview late last month, Assad denied playing any role in the U.S. operation—considered illegal on Syrian territory—and called on the U.S. to reveal the militant leader's remains, which U.S. Central Command head General Kenneth McKenzie said were buried at sea, as were bin Laden's in 2011.