- A New Zealand nurse was kidnapped by ISIS more than five years ago, the Red Cross revealed on Sunday.
- Louisa Akavi and two Red Cross drivers were abducted during a medical mission in Idlib, northwestern Syria in 2013.
- The aid group ended a media blackout on the case because there are “new and different opportunities” to find Akavi after ISIS lost its last territory in Syria, a spokesman told Business Insider.
- Akavi was seen alive as recently as December, but there is no information on the Syrian drivers.
- Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.
A Red Cross nurse was kidnapped by ISIS more than five and a half years ago, the aid group revealed on Sunday, ending a strict media blackout on the case.
Louisa Akavi, who is originally from New Zealand, and two of the aid group’s drivers disappeared in Syria during a trip to deliver medical aid in 2013, Matthew Morris, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told Business Insider.
Akavi was seen alive as recently as last December, but the whereabouts of local drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes remains unknown, he said. It is the longest abduction the ICRC has experienced in its 156 year history, the group said in a statement.
The New Zealand government and the ICRC first kept Akavi’s kidnapping a secret, fearing that sharing her name and nationality would compromise her safety. But the collapse of ISIS’ caliphate has prompted the aid group to publicize its search.
“Because we have received credible information of Louisa’s wherabouts and ISIS has lost its last territory in Syria, we believe there are new and different opportunities to find her,” Morris said.
The ICRC made the difficult decision to publicize the case, so witnesses could come forward with any information they might have on Akavi, Rajab, and Bakdounes, he added.
“We also want them to know that we never stopped looking for them.”
At a press conference Monday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that “it would be preferable if the case was not in the public domain,” The Associated Press reported.
The government continues to cooperate with the Red Cross to help find Akavi, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said.
The 62-year-old nurse went missing near the northwestern city of Saraqib in October 2013, Morris said.
She was returning from a medical mission in Idlib with Rajab, Bakdounes, and four other colleagues when their convoy was attacked by masked gunmen. The gunmen abducted the group, but freed the four colleagues the next day.
Since then, the ICRC has only received sporadic information about Akavi, according to the spokesman. The aid group believes she was swapped between armed groups before she ended up in the hands of ISIS.
Witnesses from camps for internally displaced people have sighted the nurse continuing to provide medical care.
“That shows what a remarkable person Louisa is,” said Morris. “She believes in helping people no matter who they are, no matter what their affiliations are, no matter what is being done to her.”
Akavi has worked 17 missions in more than 30 years with the ICRC.
In 1996, she survived an attack that killed six of her colleagues in Chechnya. Even after this traumatic experience, she decided to continue working with the Red Cross, Morris said.
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