- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the Israeli-Russian academic, Elizabeth Tsurkov, who has been missing since March is still alive.
- Netanyahu claims Elizabeth Tsurkov is being held by the Shiite group Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group that the United States listed as a terrorist organization in 2009.
- Iraq has officially opened an investigation into the kidnapping of Tsurkov after a comment by Netanyahu’s office.
Iraq opened an investigation into the case of a dual Israeli-Russian academic who has been missing in Iraq since March, a government spokesman said Friday.
Bassem al-Awadi’s comments were the first official Iraqi statements since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Wednesday that Elizabeth Tsurkov 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.
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.
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Tsurkov, who is pursuing a doctorate at Princeton University, is a fellow at the Washington-based think tank New Lines Institute.
“Due to the ongoing official investigations into the disappearance of a foreign journalist, there is no official statement yet,” al-Awadi told The Associated Press via text message. “We are unable to provide specific details at this time.”
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.
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A senior official from Kataeb Hezbollah declined to comment on the matter.
The group later issued a statement in which they did not confirm nor deny their role in Tsurkov’s disappearance but called for identification and prosecution of Iraqis involved in facilitating the work of Israeli citizens in a country that prohibits engagement with Israel
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.
Days after her disappearance, a local website reported that Iraqi authorities had detained an Iranian citizen involved in her kidnapping. It said Tsurkov 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.
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.