New Zealand military special forces unit has entered Syria to search for nurse Louisa Akavi who was kidnapped by the Islamic State group (ISIS) more than five years ago. The country revealed on Monday.
Details of the kidnapping had been kept secret until the International Committee of the Red Cross appealed on Sunday for news about 62-year-old Akavi and two Syrian drivers kidnapped with her in October 2013.
They were in a Red Cross convoy delivering supplies to medical facilities in Idlib, northwest Syria, when armed men stopped the vehicles and abducted seven people. Four were released the next day.
New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said information about the kidnapping had not been previously released for fear that any publicity would place them at greater risk.
But he said it was believed Akavi was still held by ISIS and there were ongoing operations to locate her which included the deployment of a small multi-agency team based in Iraq.
The New York Times has reported the Red Cross has reason to believe she is alive, because at least two people described seeing her in December 2018 at a clinic in Sousa village in eastern Deir al-Zour countryside. the village was captured by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in early 2019.
Some of the witnesses said they saw her performing medical duties at clinics and hospitals under ISIS control, indicating that she was no longer held in a cell and was able to use her nursing skills to win a modicum of freedom.