The Israeli Prime Minister’s office confirmed on Wednesday June 5, that an Israeli-Russian academic, who had been reported missing in Iraq for several months, is currently being detained by the pro-Iran armed group Kataeb Hezbollah.

An Israeli-Russian academic who had been missing in Iraq for months is being held by the pro-Iran armed faction Kataeb Hezbollah, the Israeli prime minister’s office announced on Wednesday.

Kataeb Hezbollah is a powerful faction of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, Iran-backed former paramilitaries that were integrated into the Iraqi security forces in recent years.

According to an Iraqi intelligence source, Tsurkov was kidnapped in the Iraqi capital Baghdad “at the beginning of Ramadan”, the Muslim fasting month which this year commenced on March 23.

The last tweet Tsurkov posted was on March 21, in which she shared an article she had written for US-based think-tank New Lines Institute.

In Baghdad, she had focused on pro-Iran factions and the movement of Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr as part of her research on the region, according to several journalists who had met her.

AFP obtained from the same source a video recorded by a surveillance camera at the cafe in which a young woman is seen leaving accompanied by a man.

According to the source, the woman was Tsurkov and the man accompanying her was the kidnapper, a member of a pro-Iran Iraqi group.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for her abduction.

Many pro-Iran factions have now been integrated into Iraq’s security forces but critics say some of these groups still continue to operate without accountability.

At the end of May, a member of the Iraqi intelligence services told AFP he had received an order from his superiors to halt an investigation into her disappearance.

On her personal website, she said she spoke English, Hebrew, Russian and Arabic.

She was a fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, as well as a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, an Israeli-Palestinian think-tank based in Jerusalem, her website adds.

Her research was driven by a desire to “understand and convey” the views and experiences of people in the Middle East, she wrote.

She also wanted to “highlight abuses by powerful actors, whether they are dictatorial regimes, armed groups or foreign countries intervening in the region”.

Khalil Wakim, with AFP