WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A rift emerged Monday between New Zealand’s government and the Red Cross over the humanitarian organization’s decision to name a New Zealand nurse who was kidnapped by the Islamic State group five years ago — and whom her employer believes could still be alive.

The divide was another twist in the unusual story of the lengthy captivity of Louisa Akavi, which was kept secret for years by a government and an employer initially in lockstep about the need to stop it from becoming public. If she is alive, she would be the longest-held hostage in the 156-year history of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Akavi, 62, is a nurse and midwife who was abducted in late 2013 in the northwest Syrian city of Idlib along with two Red Cross drivers who are Syrian nationals. She was most recently sighted, according to Red Cross officials, in December at a clinic in Sousa, one of the final villages held by the Islamic State group.

The Red Cross said it had named Akavi with the New Zealand government’s support in hopes of receiving information that could lead to her safe return. The timing was right, the group said, after the Islamic State lost its last shred of territory in Syria last month.

But Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, on Monday deplored the decision by Akavi’s employers, and a government spokesman said it had put her at greater risk.

“Our preference, of course, is that the case not be in the public domain,” Ardern told reporters Monday, while refusing to comment on Akavi’s plight.

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In carefully worded remarks at a news conference, during which she repeatedly declined to answer questions, Ardern did not mention Akavi’s name, or the name of any country or group.

Dominik Stillhart, director of operations for the Red Cross, said he was “slightly surprised” by Ardern’s remarks.

“We would not have made that decision without the support of the New Zealand government,” he said about naming Akavi.

He added that the “difficult decision” was made after six or seven weeks of discussion with New Zealand officials — most recently at an in-person meeting Friday — and that he believed the Red Cross’ action was “taken in full cooperation” with those involved.

The decision to name Akavi ended an especially strict, five-year media blackout in which news outlets agreed not to publish her name — or even reveal that a New Zealander was being held by the Islamic State group.

Her capture prompted secret missions by a New Zealand special operations team to look for her, New Zealand’s foreign minister, Winston Peters, revealed Monday. Up to 12 people — including defense and foreign affairs staff members, working in a “noncombat” capacity — were making “ongoing” efforts from a base in Iraq to secure Akavi’s release, he said.

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A spokesman for Peters rejected the Red Cross’ assertion that it had revealed Akavi’s name with the Ardern government’s support.

The spokesman said by email that the government had advised the organization, “at the highest level, that New Zealand’s preference was not to publish.”

“The New Zealand view then, and continues to be, that the release of her story now increased the risks to her life,” the spokesman said.

Akavi had been traveling with six colleagues in a convoy marked with the Red Cross emblem in October 2013 when they were stopped at a checkpoint by gunmen. The next day, four of the aid workers were freed, but Akavi and the two drivers, Nabil Bakdounes and Alaa Rajab, remain missing.

In early 2014, according to Red Cross officials and others held with Akavi, she was imprisoned outside Raqqa with other Western hostages, including Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker whom the Islamic State group reported killed in a 2015 airstrike.

The Islamic State group initially communicated with the Red Cross, providing proof that Akavi was alive and demanding fluctuating amounts of ransom, but her employer was not able to secure her release. By mid-2014, most of the hostages held with Akavi had been released, after ransoms were paid by their governments, families or employers.

But a small number of American and British citizens, whose countries, like New Zealand, have a strict policy of refusing to pay ransoms, remained. All but one of them, including American journalist James Foley, were beheaded that year.

The messages from the Islamic State group about Akavi stopped in 2014, but between 2016 and 2018, Red Cross officials received reports of sightings of her in Syria, including from people she had treated.

The news that she had been sighted in December 2018 at a medical clinic in Sousa was “incredible information to receive,” Stillhart said.

“She was still doing what she is trained to do and has long done: providing medical care in a conflict zone.”

Akavi, who was born in the Cook Islands and had lived in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, was on her 17th deployment with the Red Cross since 1987, many of them in conflict zones. She survived a massacre of six of her colleagues by a gunman near Grozny, Chechnya, in 1996 by hiding in a locked room.

Stillhart maintained Monday that the decision to name her and her colleagues had been the right one.

“From the moment Louisa and the others were kidnapped,” he said, “every decision we made was to maximize the chances of winning their freedom.”