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NY detectives look into a reported Saudi embassy phone call in Va. sisters’ deaths

New York police released photos of the Farea sisters on Wednesday. (Courtesy New York Police Department)

WASHINGTON — Investigators are looking into a new angle in the mysterious deaths of a Fairfax County teen and her older sister, whose bodies were found on a New York City riverbank — that the Saudi nationals might have sought political asylum.

New York police declined to comment further during a press briefing Wednesday.

On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that Tala and Rotana Farea’s mother told detectives that one day before the bodies were found last week, a Saudi Embassy official had called her and ordered that the family leave the U.S. because her daughters had applied for asylum.

After releasing photos of 16-year-old Tala and 22-year-old Rotana on Wednesday, police said they are focusing on the two-month gap between when the youngest was reported missing (Aug. 24) and when a pedestrian found their bodies near New York’s Riverside Park. They were found clothed; their ankles were bound with duct tape; and they were facing each other, taped together at the waist. Investigators say it appears they were alive when they went into the water. There was no trauma, police said.

The cause and manner of their deaths could be released as early as Thursday, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s medical examiner.

Dermot Shea, NYPD chief of detectives, told reporters Wednesday that there has been “significant progress in piecing together pieces of this puzzle to find out what happened.” Detectives were sent to Virginia, in part to interview the mother, who immigrated with her daughters and son in 2015.

It is unclear from records if they lived together or separately, but there are addresses for the family both in Falls Church and in the Fairfax Corner neighborhood of Fairfax County.

Investigators said Wednesday that the sisters might have been staying in the area as early as Aug. 24. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children listed Tala, 16, missing from Fairfax County on that day, and indicated she might be with her sister.

Rotana, 22, was enrolled at George Mason University but left classes in the spring, school spokesman Michael Sandler confirmed.

Employees at the Saudi Arabian General Consulate in New York could not confirm anyone contacted the sisters’ mother, who has yet to be identified. They referred WTOP News to a statement that said, in part, that the embassy in D.C. has “contacted the citizens’ family and extended its support and aid in this trying time.”

The consulate also confirmed that the women were in the country “accompanying their brother in Washington.”

Despite the embassy’s statement, a D.C. Police spokesman said the department is not assisting in the investigation. However, Fairfax County police said in a statement that the department is helping those New York detectives, and it asked that anyone with information about the sisters’ whereabouts leading up to their deaths to call 703-246-7800.

WTOP’s Jack Pointer and The Associated press contributed to this report.


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