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Princeton University Student Elizabeth Tsurkov Abducted in Iraq



Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli-Russian dual citizen and a graduate student at Princeton University, is being held captive by a Shiite militia, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday. Tsurkov was conducting doctoral research in Baghdad when she went missing in March.

“Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive,” the prime minister’s office said, “and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being.”

Though close confidants — including Tsurkov’s family and some of her co-workers — learned of the researcher’s abduction in late March, Israel’s statement is among the first public acknowledgments of her capture. The D.C.-based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, where Tsurkov is a fellow, said in a statement that Tsurkov’s family requested that the news not be publicized in hopes of quickly and quietly negotiating a release. Israel’s statement came after foreign media began to report on Tsurkov’s kidnapping, according to Israeli officials cited in reports by local media.

Russian and Israeli officials are cooperating in efforts to secure the researcher’s release, according to Israeli media reports.

In its statement, Israel identified Tsurkov’s captors as the Shiite militia Kataib Hezbollah. The militia is closely affiliated with Iran.

“There are parts of the Middle East where [Tsurkov’s] very identity places her at grave risk,” wrote New Lines Magazine, which is published by the Institute, in a statement on Wednesday. “But Liz is committed to a specific style of granular, hyperlocal research that requires fieldwork, and she never seems frightened of anything. She stayed in Iraq.”

Gisha, an Israeli NGO at which Tsurkov previously worked, characterized the academic on Twitter as an advocate “for the human rights and the well being of Palestinians in Gaza.”

Tsurkov entered Iraq with her Russian passport to conduct research for her doctoral studies at Princeton, according to the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. (She could not have entered the country with her Israeli passport). When asked about Princeton’s role in and knowledge of Tsurkov’s trip, a spokesperson for the University said they could not share information concerning student records, citing school policy.

“Elizabeth is a valued member of the Princeton University community,” said Michael Hotchkiss, assistant vice president for communications at Princeton. “We are deeply concerned for her safety and well-being, and we are eager for her to be able to rejoin her family and resume her studies.”

This is a developing story and it will be updated.

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