Red Cross appeals for information on staff abducted 5 years ago in Syria

Red Cross nurse Louisa Akavi was abducted in 2013 while delivering supplies to medical facilities in northwestern Syria. Photo courtesy of International Committee of the Red Cross

April 15 (UPI) — The Red Cross said Sunday it is seeking information on three staff members abducted by the Islamic State in Syria over five years ago.

New Zealand nurse Louisa Akavi and Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes were abducted Oct. 13, 2013, while traveling in a convoy that was to deliver supplies to medical facilities in northwestern Syria, when armed men ambushed the vehicles, taking seven hostages, four of whom were released the following day, the Red Cross said in a statement.

There is no information on the status of the two Syrians, it said.

“We call on anyone with information to please come forward,” International Committee of the Red Cross Director of Operations Dominik Stillhart said in a statement. “If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

The call for information comes weeks after the terrorist organization’s last sliver of territory in Syria was reclaimed by U.S.-backed rebels, causing the Red Cross to fear it may now lose track of her after years of trying to secure her release.

“We are speaking out today to publicly honor and acknowledge Louisa’s, Alaa’s and Nabil’s hardship and suffering,” Stillhart said. “We also want our colleagues to know that we’ve always continued to search for them and we are still trying our hardest to find them.”

The Red Cross said it’s the longest abduction case in its 156-year history.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the government has been trying for years to secure Akavi’s release with the help of the Red Cross.

“Throughout the past five years, the New Zealand government and the ICRC have always worked on the basis Louisa was alive and that hope still remains,” he said. “We continue to work together to locate and recover her,” Stuff reported.

New Zealand media have long known about her abduction but have not mentioned it due to an agreement with the local government. When non-New Zealand newspapers had published details of her detainment, New Zealand was quick to have those references redacted.

Media silence then ended Sunday after the ICRC published its call for information and spoke to the New York Times, putting her name out into the public, a move New Zealand disagreed with.

Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference Monday that she will not comment on the actions of others.

“The New Zealand government maintains the position that it would be better not to have this case in the public domain, and I won’t be commenting any further on it,” she said.

On Sunday, the New York Times published a lengthy article with Red Cross Director General Yves Daccord, explaining the efforts to which the organization has gone to secure Akavi’s release, including negotiating a ransom with the Islamic State.

“Decisions have been taken that weren’t our own and I won’t be commenting further on decisions made by others,” Ardern said.

Meanwhile, Daccord said that he hopes his organization’s call is heeded.

“Since the moment Louisa, Alaa and Nabil were taken, we have never stopped searching for them, and we will not stop nor give up hope,” he said in a tweet. “My wish is that someone somewhere knows something that will help.”


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