An Israeli-Russian academic who was kidnapped in Iraq early this year appeared in a video for the first time on Monday, asking in Hebrew for increased pressure for her release.
In the statement, seemingly given under duress, Elizabeth Tsurkov criticizes Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas, launched after Gaza terrorists massacred 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7, and “admits” to having been in Iraq as a Western spy and agitator when she was taken hostage, apparently by the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah terror group.
The Princeton University-based Tsurkov disappeared in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, in March while doing research.
The video, apparently the first showing Tsurkov since her disappearance, was aired by Iraq’s alRabiaa satellite TV network Monday. It was also shared on the Telegram channels of pro-Iranian armed groups in Iraq.
Notably, she identifies herself only as Israeli in the video. A section where she may have mentioned her Russian citizenship was apparently cut out.
A spokesperson for Tsurkov’s family said in a statement: “It is encouraging to see this proof of life video, that was clearly filmed in recent weeks. While we can’t comment on what Elizabeth is saying, we appreciate that this is an important step in the process to bring her home to her family.”
Tsurkov, a 37-year-old doctoral student whose work focuses on the Middle East and specifically Syria and Iraq, was abducted while doing research for her doctorate at Princeton. She likely entered the country on her Russian passport since Israel and Iraq do not have diplomatic relations.
Days after her disappearance, a local website reported that Iraqi authorities had detained an Iranian citizen in connection with her kidnapping. It said that Tsurkov was kidnapped from Baghdad’s central neighborhood of Karradah and that the Iranian embassy in the Iraqi capital was pressing for the man’s release and to have him deported to Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel holds Iraq accountable for Tsurkov’s safety and fate, and accused Kataeb Hezbollah of holding her, but the pro-Iran armed faction has implied it was not involved in her disappearance.
Kataeb Hezbollah is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, made up of dozens of mostly Shiite militias that were integrated into Iraqi security forces in recent years.
After Netanyahu went public about Tsurkov’s kidnapping in July, the Iraqi government announced it had launched an investigation into the matter but has not reported any results.