Sunday 15 September 2019

Family of Saudi sisters found in river reject suicide theory

Bound together: Sisters Tala (16) and Rotana Farea (22) were discovered in the Hudson River on October 24. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Bound together: Sisters Tala (16) and Rotana Farea (22) were discovered in the Hudson River on October 24. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Harriet Alexander in New York

The family of two Saudi asylum-seeker sisters, found dead bound together with duct tape in a New York river, have rejected suggestions that they committed suicide.

Tala Farea (16) and her 22-year-old sister Rotana were discovered in the Hudson River on October 24.

The pair were facing each other, fully clothed and bound together with duct tape.

The sisters had recently requested asylum in the United States without giving a reason for the application, the 'New York Times' reported, citing police sources.

Police said the sisters' bodies bore no signs of trauma, which suggested they had not jumped off the nearby George Washington bridge. They are still trying to determine how they died but are treating the case as suicide.

"We do not know that a crime took place," said Dermot Shea, the chief of detectives.

"We have a terrible tragedy for sure."

The sisters were living until the summer in Fairfax, Virginia, although their mother had not seen them since they went missing from home in the city last December.

They were found but chose to live in a shelter rather than return home.

Their mother told detectives, according to the 'New York Post', that the day before their bodies were discovered, she received a phone call from the Saudi embassy to tell her the family's residency in the US was in jeopardy because her daughters had applied for immigration asylum.

Tala had again been reported missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in August.

But the Saudi newspaper 'Arab News', citing family members, reported that the search was called off when it was discovered she was visiting her sister at an unspecified college in New York.

Rotana Farea had been enrolled at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, but left in the spring and may have moved to New York at some point, according to media reports.

A relative told 'Arab News' that there had not been any family trouble involving the two sisters.

"They were a democratic family, they never had any issues and the eldest was sent to college in New York City with her family's blessing," they said.

The sisters' family could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Saudi embassy in Washington said yesterday that it was extending its "support and aid in this trying time" to the family.

The Saudi Arabian consulate in New York issued a statement confirming that the sisters were both Saudi Arabian citizens, and saying they were students, "accompanying their brother in Washington".

The consulate added that it had already appointed a lawyer to follow the case in order "to avoid inaccurate reporting".

Irish Independent

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