Israeli-Russian academic held by militia in Iraq, Netanyahu says

Israeli PM’s office holds Iraq responsible for wellbeing of Elizabeth Tsurkov, who went missing months ago.

Iraq - Kataib Hezbollah
Members of the Iraqi Shia militia, Kataib Hezbollah, stand over a tank during near Tikrit, Iraq [File: Ali Mohammed/EPA]

An Israeli-Russian academic who went missing in Iraq a few months ago is alive and being held there by the Shia militia Kataib Hezbollah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has said.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office on Wednesday named the woman as Elizabeth Tsurkov. It said she had gone to Iraq for research purposes on behalf of Princeton University in the United States. There were no immediate details on her condition.

Tsurkov entered Iraq on her Russian passport, the statement said.

“Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive and we see Iraq as responsible for her fate and well being,” the statement said, adding that the situation is being handled by the relevant bodies in Israel. There was no immediate comment by Russian or Iraqi officials.

Tsurkov’s mother Irena said they lost contact two months ago.

“From what I had known until today, she was in Turkey, working on her research for Princeton. I didn’t even know she was in Iraq,” she told N12 News.

Israeli daily Haaretz quoted her family, who in a statement confirmed that she had been kidnapped while researching her PhD dissertation at Princeton University.

“She was kidnapped in the middle of Baghdad, and we see the Iraqi government as directly responsible for her safety,” the statement said. “We ask for her immediate release from this unlawful detention.”

‘Deserves America’s every effort’

Israeli citizens are forbidden from travelling to Iraq – an enemy state.

According to her LinkedIn page, Tsurkov’s research includes work on rights violation, politics and upheaval in Syria, Iraq, Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.

She has more than 78,000 followers on Twitter and appears to have last tweeted in March. The 36-year-old often tweeted about developments in war-torn Syria and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Tsurkov is a fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington, DC-based research group.

She is also a contributor to the Washington, DC-based News Line Magazine. The outlet has called on the United States government to intervene and help secure her release.

“All of us feel that the United States needs to be involved in some way in helping Liz. She is not a US national, and her disappearance did not trigger the sort of aggressive US reaction that an American’s might,” the outlet’s staff wrote in a statement published on its website on Wednesday.

“But Liz is very much a part of America. She works with a Washington think tank, writes for an American magazine and studies at Princeton University. She deserves America’s every effort to bring her to safety.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies