Red Cross reveals secret ISIS hostages
Louisa Akavi, 62, was kidnapped in Idlib, Syria in 2013
New Zealand-born Louisa Akavi, 62, was traveling in a Red Cross convoy in Idlib, north-western Syria, when she and several other volunteers were taken hostage by gunmen on 13 October 2013.
Seven people were snatched from the convoy, and despite four being released the following day, the whereabouts of Ms Akavi and two other volunteers, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, are still unknown.
Since the last patch of ISIS resistance in Syria was wiped out last month, the Red Cross has launched an appeal to trace them over fears they may have been executed.
The identity of Ms Akavi had remained a secret at the demand of both her employer and the New Zealand government, who warned that mention of her in the media could put her in danger.
But on Monday the Red Cross broke cover to name Ms Akavi and appeal for any information that could lead to her being found.
‘The past five and a half years have been an extremely difficult time for the families of our three abducted colleagues,’ said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC’s director of operations.
‘Louisa is a true and compassionate humanitarian. Alaa and Nabil were committed colleagues and an integral part of our aid deliveries.
She and seven other Red Cross workers were snatched from a convoy near the Syrian city, with four of them being released the next day [file photo]
‘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.
‘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 wellbeing.’
Most recently, Ms Akavi was believed to have been spotted in the ISIS stronghold of Sousa in December last year.
People who claimed to have been treated by Ms Akavi said she was working as a nurse there.
The New York Times reported the agency had information on three other sightings in Abu Kamal in 2016, Raqqa in 2017 and Mayadeen last year.
According to the Red Cross, after her capture, ISIS representatives made contact with the aid agency in phone calls, emails and text messages to demand they pay a ransom of $1.1million.
They reportedly also requested several ISIS fighters be released and later upped their ransom demands to €20million.
After being moved from jail to jail by her captors, the Red Cross discovered in 2014 Ms Akavi was being held at a facility outside Raqqa with more than a dozen prisoners from Europe and North America.
American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by Jihadi John in August 2014, was also said to have been held at the jail.
Although many of the hostages were released by ISIS after their governments paid ransoms, Ms Akavi and several other British and American inmates remained there.
Ms Akavi is an experienced nurse having carried out 17 field missions with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the New Zealand Red Cross
Many of the other prisoners were then executed by ISIS in a series of brutal beheading videos, but Ms Akavi was allowed to live.
Akavi family spokesman Tuaine Robati said Ms Akavi was an ‘incredibly experienced nurse and aid worker who knew the risks of her job’.
‘Our family misses her very much and is concerned for her safety,’ Mr Robati said.
‘We think about her every day and hope she feels strength in that. We know she’s thinking of us, and that she will be worried about us too.
‘Our family is incredibly proud of her and of the work she has dedicated her life to. She has true goodness in her heart, that’s why she became a nurse. She loves helping people.
‘She’s been through tough times in her job before, but she’s stuck at it because she loves it.
‘We miss Louisa very much. We love her, and we just want her home.’
A relative of Ms Akavi said the family had a strong presence in the town of Porirua on New Zealand’s North Island.
‘Maybe all up there’s 200 plus of us, men, women and children here in Porirua with that last name. We are all close,’ the relative, who wished to remain anonymous, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘My late father knew her very well… she has always been overseas working and when home was very private.
‘This community is small and the Cook Island community gossips so my family, all of us, are under a lot of strain.’
The Red Cross is currently searching the refugee camps of Syria in an effort to find her.
‘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,’ Mr. Stillhart added.
‘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 wellbeing.
‘We remind everyone that she is a victim of a kidnapping, and a hostage who has been held for many years.
‘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.’