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Red Cross shares details of New Zealand nurse held hostage by Isis for more than five years

Red Cross worker Louisa Akavi, a New Zealand national, is seen in this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Reuters on April 14 2019. Photo Credit: ICRC/Handout via REUTERS

Red Cross shares details of New Zealand nurse held hostage by Isis for more than five years

Red Cross shares details of New Zealand nurse held hostage by Isis for more than five years

The Red Cross is seeking information about three staff members abducted in Syria five-and-a-half years ago, including a 62 year-old New Zealand nurse.

A New Zealand nurse kidnapped in Syria more than five years ago may still be alive, the International Committee for the Red Cross has said, revealing her identity for the first time in an attempt to secure her release.

Louisa Akavi, a Kiwi Red Cross nurse abducted in October 2013 in northwest Syria, eventually ended up in the hands of Isis, held alongside prisoners James Foley and John Cantlie. Akavi’s identity occasionally slipped out in news reports over the following years but the New Zealand Government made sure it was soon removed whenever it did emerge, fearing the publicity could endanger her life.

“The past five and a half years have been an extremely difficult time for the families of our three abducted colleagues. Louisa is a true and compassionate humanitarian. Alaa and Nabil were committed colleagues and an integral part of our aid deliveries,” said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC’s director of operations.

“We call on anyone with information to please come forward. If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

The official line from the New Zealand Government is that nobody knows whether she is alive or dead. But the recent fall of Islamic State means there is doubt about whether she is still captive.

The last confirmed sighting of Akavi was in late 2018 near the Euphrates River at the Syrian-Iraqi border, after she had been moved around Syria including to Raqqa, al-Susa and al-Bukamal, Stillhart told the Guardian.

Akavi has been an aid worker for more than 30 years. In 1996, she narrowly survived a massacre in Chechnya in which six of her Red Cross colleagues were gunned down in their sleep.

Stillhart said the Red Cross had been in “active communication” with Isis in the first years of Akavi’s abduction but could not persuade the group to release her.

“Given the work that the ICRC does, we have relationships with armed actors around the world, and we tried as many avenues as we could to reach a positive outcome,” Stillhart said.

It is understood the International Red Cross Committee (IRCC) has cooperated with the New York Times in naming her, believing that the publication of Akavi’s identity and nationality will give her comfort and self-confidence to self-ID if she is in a camp.

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