Red Cross reveals nurse Louisa Akavi has been held in Syria since 2013

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By Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s foreign minister confirmed Monday that a nurse has been held captive by the Islamic State group in Syria for almost six years, information long kept secret for fear her life might be at risk.

The status of nurse and midwife Louisa Akavi, now 62, is unknown, but her employer, the International Committee of the Red Cross, says it has received recent eyewitness reports suggesting she might be alive.

The New York Times on Sunday became the first media organization to name Akavi, ending a more than 5 ½-year news blackout imposed by New Zealand’s government and the Red Cross with the cooperation of international media.

The collapse of the Islamic State group has raised hopes that Akavi and the two Syrian drivers kidnapped with her might now be discovered.

In a statement, the ICRC said that as recently as December, Akavi may have been seen by at lest two people at a clinic in Sousa, one of the Islamic State group’s last outposts. There were also reported sightings in 2016 and 2017, Red Cross officials said.

“We continue to work together (with the Red Cross) to locate and recover her,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said. “This has been a uniquely complex and difficult case. Louisa went to Syria with the ICRC to deliver humanitarian relief to people suffering as a result of a brutal civil war and ISIS occupation.”

Peters said New Zealand had sent a small multi-agency team, including special forces, to Iraq to gather information on Akavi.