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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

New York police: dead Saudi sisters did not want to go home

Detectives find no trace of foul play in the deaths of Rotana and Tala Farea

Photos of Rotana, left, and Tala Farea provided by police in New York City, where their bodies were found on the banks of the Hudson River. NYPD via AP
Photos of Rotana, left, and Tala Farea provided by police in New York City, where their bodies were found on the banks of the Hudson River. NYPD via AP

Police in New York investigating the deaths of two Saudi sisters found dead on the banks of the Hudson River say they have been told the women said they would rather die than return to Saudi Arabia.

Dermot Shea, the city’s chief of detectives, said investigators had so far found no evidence of foul play in the deaths of Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16.

"At this point in time we have no credible information that a crime took place in New York City … but it is still under investigation," he told a press conference on Friday.

The women were found on October 24 with their waists and ankles loosely bound to each other with duct tape, posing a mystery to detectives.

“We also have sources that the detectives have developed from the investigation so far, that they would rather inflict harm on themselves — commit suicide — than return to Saudi Arabia,” said Mr Shea, adding that he believed they had asked for asylum in the US.

He offered a timeline of their last months, saying the sisters were last seen by their family in Virginia on November 30 last year.

They had been living in a “shelter-like” facility in Virginia and detectives were aware of allegations of abuse within the family, although they had not been corroborated.

Travel records showed they arrived in New York about September 1.

“We have them staying at a number of high-end hotels in New York City during this time,” said Mr Shea, saying they had been spotted on CCTV footage in apparently good health.

However, that changed when they began to run out of money, he added, saying their credit card was “maxed out”.

An early morning exerciser — who came forward because of a "story that is haunting him" — spotted them 10 metres apart in a park close to the Hudson River at about 7am.

“They were sitting with their hands in their heads, their heads lowered, making noises that he described as praying,” said Mr Shea.

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Read more: Relatives of dead Saudi sisters reject suicide reports

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Police initially believed they could not have jumped into the water as their bodies showed none of the injuries expected from leaping from a bridge. Detectives now believe they may have waded into the water.

“It is entirely credible that the girls entered the water alive,” said Mr Shea, adding that the tape was not so much “binding” the women together as “more like keeping them together”.

He said that he was still waiting for the medical examiner’s report on the cause of death, and appealed for anyone who had met the sisters since August to come forward with information.