“Due to the ongoing official investigations into the disappearance of a foreign journalist, there is no official statement yet.”
—Comments by Bassem al-Awadi, an Iraqi government spokesman, about the kidnapping in Iraq of Elizabeth Tsurkov, a dual-nationality Russian-Israeli academic based in the US.
In March, an academic went missing somewhere in Iraq, reportedly in Baghdad. In July, the world woke up to that fact.
Elizabeth Tsurkov is a researcher working on a doctorate at Princeton University who is also associated with a couple of thinktanks. She’s been on TV and in other media a number of times discussing the politics and conflicts of the Middle East, her focus of study.
But she isn’t an American. Instead, she is a dual citizen of Russia and Israel, and it may be that that last bit of her identity is what got her in trouble.
According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who first spoke openly about Tsurkov last week, she is being held by the group Kataeb Hezbollah, Hezbollah Brigades, which is a major Iraqi militia group supported by Iran. (The group is not connected with the Lebanese group Hezbollah.) That raises the question of who ordered her kidnapping and for what purpose. Was it the Iraqi group that decided to take Tsurkov or was it their patrons back in Tehran?
Who is Elizabeth Tsurkov?
Born in Russia, Tsurkov immigrated to Israel with her parents as a young child. She was pursuing her doctorate at Princeton University, but she was also a non-resident fellow at the New Lines Institute, a foreign policy thinktank in Washington, DC, and a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, an Israeli thinktank.
In a statement, the New Lines Institute suggested that they had been worried about her work in Iraq. “We did not want her to stay in an Iraq that was increasingly dominated by pro-Iranian militias,” they said. “Just over a week later, we learned from our sources that a pro-Iranian militia had kidnapped her…. We have not heard from her since.”
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