Princeton doctoral student missing for months being held in Iraq

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Elizabeth Tsurkov, who disappeared in late March, is still alive “and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being.”

Associated Press

Jul 6, 2023, 11:26 AM

Updated 345 days ago

Share:

A dual Israeli-Russian academic who has been missing in Iraq for months is being held by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the office of Israel’s prime minister said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Elizabeth Tsurkov, who disappeared in late March, is still alive “and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being.”
Netanyahu said Tsurkov is being held by the Shiite group Kataeb Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades, a powerful Iran-backed group that the U.S. government listed as a terrorist organization in 2009. The group's leader and founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed in an American airstrike near Baghdad’s international airport in January 2020 along with Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of its regional military alliances.
Tsurkov, whose work focuses on the Middle East, and specifically war-torn Syria, is an expert on regional affairs and has been widely quoted over the years by international media. Tsurkov last tweeted on March 21.
She is a fellow at the Washington-based think tank New Lines Institute. Her colleague Hassan Hassan, editor in chief of New Lines Magazine, said co-workers were notified of her kidnapping in Iraq on March 29. Hassan told The Associated Press that some of her colleagues had been in touch with her just days before she went missing.
“We could not believe the news, knowing what Iraq is like for any scholar or researcher in recent years,” he said. “But there is hope that she will be released through negotiations.”
Hassan said they they have reached out to American and foreign officials, including at Princeton University where Tsurkov is pursuing her doctorate, for assistance. He added that they “called on the United States government to be involved in securing her release, despite her not being a U.S. national.”
Netanyahu said Tsurkov is an academic who visited Iraq on her Russian passport, “at her own initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University."
Tsurkov could not have used her Israeli passport to enter Iraq as the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.
A senior official from Kataeb Hezbollah declined to comment on the matter.
Iran emerged as a major power broker in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, supporting Shiite groups and militias that have enjoyed wide influence in the country ever since.
There has been no official comment from Iraq since Tsurkov went missing. Days after her disappearance, a local website reported that an Iranian citizen who was involved in her kidnapping was detained by Iraqi authorities. It said the woman was kidnapped from Baghdad’s central neighborhood of Karradah and that Iran’s embassy in the Iraqi capital was pressing for the man’s release and to have him deported to Iran.
Some Iraqi activists posted a copy of a passport of an Iranian man at the time, claiming that he was involved in the kidnapping.
Netanyahu’s office said Tsurkov’s case is being handled by the “relevant parties in the State of Israel out of concern for Elizabeth Tsurkov’s security and well-being.”
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, citing the country’s hostile rhetoric, support for militant groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and its suspected nuclear program. Iran denies Western allegations that it is pursuing a nuclear bomb.
Days before Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Soleimani were killed, U.S. military strikes in Iraq and Syria killed 25 Kataeb Hezbollah members. The U.S. said at the time that the December 2019 strike was a retaliation for a rocket attack days earleir that killed an American contractor at an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group.


More from News 12
0:26
Authorities: Paramus man obtained COVID-19 relief loans for business that closed before pandemic

Authorities: Paramus man obtained COVID-19 relief loans for business that closed before pandemic

0:58
Sunny skies, warm temperatures and breezy conditions in New Jersey

Sunny skies, warm temperatures and breezy conditions in New Jersey

1:43
Severe thunderstorms on Friday cause damage across New Jersey

Severe thunderstorms on Friday cause damage across New Jersey

1:02
Police: Armed suspect barricaded at Woodbridge gas station

Police: Armed suspect barricaded at Woodbridge gas station

0:53
New Jersey will soon see a stretch of 90-degree days. Here’s how to stay safe

New Jersey will soon see a stretch of 90-degree days. Here’s how to stay safe

0:38
Jersey Proud: Battleship New Jersey comes to Paulsboro this weekend before heading back to Camden

Jersey Proud: Battleship New Jersey comes to Paulsboro this weekend before heading back to Camden

2:01
Police in New Jersey say burglars are using Wi-Fi jammers to target homes. Here's what you need to know.

Police in New Jersey say burglars are using Wi-Fi jammers to target homes. Here's what you need to know.

1:05
Wyckoff native Kevin Jonas diagnosed with skin cancer

Wyckoff native Kevin Jonas diagnosed with skin cancer

0:31
NJ attorney general: Identities of officers, suspect in Woodbridge shootout released

NJ attorney general: Identities of officers, suspect in Woodbridge shootout released

0:24
Pulaski Skyway to close in both directions this weekend

Pulaski Skyway to close in both directions this weekend

1:13
Local veterans receive donated cars on Flag Day

Local veterans receive donated cars on Flag Day

2:13
Boating expert offers tips on how to stay safe on the water this summer

Boating expert offers tips on how to stay safe on the water this summer

1:52
Water service restored to Newark apartment buildings after days without service

Water service restored to Newark apartment buildings after days without service

0:27
Cat rescued from a tree in Jackson Township

Cat rescued from a tree in Jackson Township

2:02
About 70 firefighters help put out fire that damaged 2 Middlesex homes

About 70 firefighters help put out fire that damaged 2 Middlesex homes

0:23
Police: 1 arrested in undercover prostitution, drug investigation at Secaucus go-go bar

Police: 1 arrested in undercover prostitution, drug investigation at Secaucus go-go bar

2:03
A legacy lives on: This Father's Day, a NJ coach turns to the lessons from his dad

A legacy lives on: This Father's Day, a NJ coach turns to the lessons from his dad

0:29
Supreme Court strikes down Trump-era ban on rapid-fire rifle bump stocks, reopening political fight

Supreme Court strikes down Trump-era ban on rapid-fire rifle bump stocks, reopening political fight

Is your dad awesome? New Jersey tell us why your dad rocks!

Is your dad awesome? New Jersey tell us why your dad rocks!

1:58
What shows do the Tony Award nominees want to see? This is what they said.

What shows do the Tony Award nominees want to see? This is what they said.