A New Zealand nurse believed abducted with two drivers by Islamic State militants in Syria in 2013 may still be alive, the International Committee of the Red Cross has revealed for the first time in an appeal for news of her whereabouts.
Louisa Akavi was snatched along with Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes while travelling in a Red Cross convoy delivering supplies to Idlib, in the northwest of the country.
Armed men stopped their convoy on October 13, 2013, and abducted seven people, four of whom were released the following day.
The ICRC said it believed they were abducted by the Islamic State group (IS).
“Our latest credible information indicates that Louisa was alive in late 2018,” the group said Sunday in a statement from Geneva “The ICRC has never been able to learn more details about Alaa and Nabil, and their fate is not known.”
New Zealand said it disagreed with making the abduction public but did confirm it had dispatched a special forces unit to Syria to search for Akavi.
“This has involved members of the NZDF (New Zealand defence force) drawn from the Special Operations Force, and personnel have visited Syria from time to time as required,” New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said Monday. “This non-combat team was specifically focused on locating Louisa and identifying opportunities to recover her. The efforts to locate and recover Louisa are ongoing, and there are a number of operational or intelligence matters the government won’t be commenting on.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed disappointment at the information released by the ICRC and refused to answer questions at her weekly press conference on Monday.
“It absolutely remains the government’s view that it would be preferable if this case was not in the public domain,” she said.