Red Cross breaks years of silence to appeal for information on abducted workers

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says a New Zealand nurse and two Syrian drivers were last known to be held by ISIS after being kidnapped in Syria in 2013.

Aid group says New Zealand nurse and 2 Syrian drivers were kidnapped in Syria in 2013

International Committee of the Red Cross official Dominik Stillhart (pictured in 2008) said Louisa Akavi, a nurse from New Zealand working with the aid group, has been missing in Syria for more than five years. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Associated Press)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appealed on Sunday for information on the whereabouts of three employees abducted in Syria more than five years ago and last known to have been held by the Islamic State (ISIS).

Breaking its silence on the case, the aid agency identified the three workers as Louisa Akavi, a nurse from New Zealand, and Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes.

U.S.-backed forces announced the capture of Islamic State's last territory in Syria last month, eliminating its rule over a caliphate which it had proclaimed in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

"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 ICRC said in a statement. 

"Our latest credible information indicates that Louisa was alive in late 2018. The ICRC has never been able to learn more details about Alaa and Nabil, and their fate is not known."

The three were travelling in a Red Cross convoy that was delivering supplies to medical facilities in Idlib in northwestern Syria, when it was stopped by armed men on Oct. 13, 2013. Four other people abducted with them were released the next day.

'Caring for people affected by conflict'

"Following the fall of the last territory held by Islamic State group, we fear there is an extra risk of losing track of Louisa, though we remain hopeful this period will instead open new opportunities for us to learn more about her whereabouts and well-being," the ICRC said.

Akavi, now 62, joined the ICRC in 1988 and worked in hotspots including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

She has been held longer than anyone in ICRC's 156-year history, said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations worldwide.

After being moved by ISIS forces to Raqqa in 2017, she was seen in Al-Bukamal in late 2018, close to the Syrian-Iraqi border near the Euphrates River, the last concrete information on her whereabouts, he said.

"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," he said.