This picture provided on July 5, 2023 by Syrian citizen journalist Ahmad Mohammad who took the photo in Istanbul on May 26, 2017, shows Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov who had been missing in Iraq for months. Image Credit: AFP

JERUSALEM: An Israeli-Russian academic who went missing in Iraq a few months ago is alive and being held there by Shiite group Kataib Hezbollah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Wednesday.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office 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.

Lost contact

Iraq’s prime minister’s office and a spokesperson for the interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Kataib Hezbollah could not be reached.

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.

According to the university’s website, Tsurkov is pursuing her PhD at Princeton’s Department of Politics. Her fields of study include comparative politics, and she has written articles based on observations from the field in Syria, the website showed.

A Princeton spokesperson declined to say whether Tsurkov was in Iraq on the university’s behalf, citing policies and a federal law governing students’ privacy and safety.

“Elizabeth is a valued member of the Princeton University community,” Michael Hotchkiss, the spokesperson, said in the statement. “We are deeply concerned for her safety and wellbeing, and we are eager for her to be able to rejoin her family and resume her studies.” The State Department said it was aware of her kidnapping and that it condemned the abduction of private citizens. It deferred questions on her situation to Iraqi authorities.

Tsurkov’s Twitter page, which has nearly 80,000 followers, says she researches issues including human rights and upheaval in Syria and Iraq.

She last posted on Twitter on March 21.

Israeli citizens are forbidden from travelling to Iraq “ an enemy state. Kataib Hezbollah is one of the most powerful Iran-backed militia groups there.