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Sister of kidnapped Israeli researcher urges US to use influence to free her

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral student at Princeton University, went missing in Iraq earlier this year
Elizabeth Tsurkov in Istanbul, Turkey, on 26 May 2017 (AFP/Ahmad Mohamad)

The US needs to leverage its power to secure the release of Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov, who disappeared in Iraq earlier this year, her sister Emma has said. 

Elizabeth, a fellow at New Lines Institute and a doctoral student at Princeton University's department of politics, disappeared in March after last being seen in the Karrada region of Baghdad.

Elizabeth frequently made contact with local Arab sources, journalists and researchers across Iraq and Syria and was part of a group promoting female journalists and analysts and their work in the region.

CCTV footage released by Iraqi TV channel Al-Rabiaa in July appeared to show Elizabeth - who entered Iraq on her Russian passport - entering a cafe in the Karrada region, apparently the Ridha Alwan coffee shop, and was later abducted by the Kataeb Hezbollah militia after leaving the cafe, according to the New York Times.

However, a spokesperson for Kataeb Hezbollah appeared to imply that they were not responsible for her kidnapping.

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In July, the Iraqi government announced it was conducting a formal investigation into the apparent kidnapping of Elizabeth, as the armed group believed to be responsible indicated it did not have her.

While Elizabeth is not a US çitizen, her sister Emma Tsurkov says that the US government has substantial influence, given that her sister has significant US ties as a “graduate student in an American institution that is approved and funded for research”.

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“The current level of pressure is unsatisfactory. It’s just not enough,” Emma said in an interview with The Associated Press. 

“My sister is languishing at the hands of this terror organisation. And it’s been almost six months.”

Emma is meeting with the State Department and Israeli and Russian officials in Washington this week. She told The Associated Press that she wanted to have a separate meeting with the Iraqi embassy but was reportedly blown off. 

“I really never wanted to do any of this. But I realized that everyone is interested but no one is going to do anything to actually bring her home,” Emma said.

“And everyone is just hoping that someone else does, passing the buck. But at the end of the day, I don’t see anything being done to bring my sister back.”

During a Monday meeting with a State Department representative, she said she argued that the financial aid the US provides to Iraq affords it considerable influence, which should be utilised. 

“This is,” Emma told The Associated Press, “the type of nightmare I wish on no one”.

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