The Current

Red Cross nurse Louisa Akavi was likely kidnapped by ISIS for her medical skills, global security expert says

More than five years after a New Zealand nurse was captured by ISIS, her story is finally being told, as efforts to rescue her go public. We speak to two experts about why authorities fought to keep Louisa Akavi's name out of the headlines, and what's changed.

'I certainly wouldn't be surprised to find that she was working in a field hospital,' Ben West said

Red Cross worker Louisa Akavi, a New Zealand national, has been missing from Syria since the fall of 2013. (REUTERS)
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A New Zealand nurse kidnapped by ISIS in 2013 may have been kept for her medical knowledge, a global security expert says.

Ben West, an analyst with American geopolitical intelligence platform Stratfor, explained that while ransom money is most commonly associated with kidnapping, political processions, propaganda and skills are also possible motivations, suggesting that Louisa Akavi was taken for the latter.

"She was a nurse. She was a professional and obviously, the Islamic State needed that. And so I certainly wouldn't be surprised to find that she was working in a field hospital," he told Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current.

Akavi was working as a Red Cross nurse in Syria in late 2013 when she was abducted along with her two Red Cross drivers, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, both Syrian nationals. 

The ICRC is seeking information on the whereabouts of Alaa Rajab, left, and Nabil Bakdounes, right, abducted in Syria more than 5 years ago. (Associated Press)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) broke its silence about the case Sunday to seek public information on the whereabouts of the three workers. The aid group kept the case details secret for years over concerns that mention of Akavi, now 62, would endanger efforts to locate her. Since ISIS lost most of its hold over Syrian territory last month, "the urgency to find our colleagues has reached a new peak," the ICRC said.

"Any effort to stimulate some information, gets some getting clues coming in, I think it is a strategy now," West said.

"The longer she's out there, the higher her risk of dying. And so I think at this point making a last-ditch effort to raise awareness and get some information makes sense."

To discuss the case of the missing aid workers, Anna Maria Tremonti spoke to: 
  • Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times, who agreed not to report on the story after learning about it years ago.
  • Ben West, a global security analyst with Stratfor.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Produced by Alison Masemann and Jessica Linzey. 

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