Her name is Louisa Akavi, and the world is far more familiar with her onetime cell mate: American aid worker Kayla Mueller. Both were kidnapped by ISIS, and while Mueller was killed while in custody, Akavi is believed to be still alive. Akavi is a 62-year-old New Zealand nurse, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is talking about their worker for the first time since her abduction in Syria five years ago, reports the New York Times. The ICRC has kept silent about Akavi all this time, believing it was the best strategy for her safety. Now that the ISIS caliphate has been essentially wiped out, however, the organization is changing strategy. The group says it has received credible reports that Akavi was still alive—and being forced to work as a nurse for ISIS—as recently as late 2018.
“This was incredible information to receive, apparent confirmation of her location, that she was still alive and that she was still doing what she is trained to do and has long done: providing medical care in a conflict zone,” says ICRC official Dominik Stillhartsaid, per the Guardian. The group does not have information on two men abducted with her, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes. The shift in strategy to go public is not without controversy. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused to answer questions about Akavi on Monday, reports the BBC. "It absolutely remains the government's view that it would be preferable if this case was not in the public domain," she said. (Read about Mueller's last letter home to her family.)