A New Zealand nurse kidnapped by the Islamic State in Syria is still missing weeks after the terror cell's stronghold in the region crumbled.
Louisa Akavi was captured alongside aid workers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes and held hostage by IS in Syria back five years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross
, revealed today.
The 62-year-old nurse, who has carried out 17 field missions with ICRC, was delivering medical supplies with drivers Rajab and Bakdounes in north-western Syria when armed men stopped their vehicles on October 13, 2013. The gunman snatched seven people. Four were released the next day.
In the years since her capture, the ICRC has made repeated efforts to win her freedom. Based on 'credible information' the ICRC believes Akavi was alive in late 2018.
The fate of Rajab and Bakdounes is unknown, the ICRC said.
Stuff NZ reports
Akavi was held in the same cell block as other Western hostage, some who were beheaded by IS soldiers. Her nursing skills reportedly saved her from a brutal execution.
In a video statement, ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart called on anyone with information about the three abducted workers to come forward.
'If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release,' ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart said.
'I can't even start imagining the suffering and hardship Louisa has gone through. What we actually know is that Louisa has been working as a nurse during her abduction which shows her dedication and commitment to the mission and mandate of the Red Cross - caring for people affected by conflict.
'We are speaking out today to publicly honour and acknowledge Louisa's, Alaa's, and Nabil's hardship and suffering. We also want our three colleagues to know that we've always continued to search for them and we are still trying our hardest to find them. We are looking forward to the day we can see them again.'
The ICRC attempted to negotiate Akavi's release with IS through emails, phone calls and text messages, Stuff NZ reports.
IS asked for a ransom that ranged from $1.6 million to as much as $31 million.
As proof-of-life the terror group provided personal information about Akavi including the number of her insurance policy, which the New York Times quotes her family as saying she kept with her on a card.
The ICRC said following the fall of the last territory held by Islamic State group, it fears there is an extra risk of losing track of Akavi.
'Though we remain hopeful this period will instead open new opportunities for us to learn more about her whereabouts and wellbeing,' ICRC said in a statement.
'We remind everyone that she is a victim of a kidnapping, and a hostage who has been held for many years.'
According to Stuff NZ, a group of senior government and military officials attempted a secret mission to rescue Akavi in late 2016. It would be the second attempt to free her after a failed attempt in 2014 by US Navy SEALs.
However, after reports appeared in the British media that badged New Zealand SAS troops had been seen in mid-2016 on the frontline in Iraq, the mission cooled.
The New Zealand government, led by John Key at the time, had publicly stated
that its troops would only operate 'behind the wire' in Iraq with no plan for soldiers to engage in combat missions.