Mystery surrounds deaths of Saudi sisters found in New York

image copyrightNYPD
image captionTala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 22, were found duct-taped together in the Hudson River

Police in New York are investigating the deaths of two sisters from Saudi Arabia who were found duct-taped together in the Hudson River last week.

Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 22, were discovered facing each other and fully clothed without any obvious signs of trauma, police say.

Investigators say it is too early to determine if any crime occurred or if their deaths were caused by suicide.

The girls had recently applied for US asylum, police said.

The Farea sisters moved from Saudi Arabia to Fairfax, Virginia, in 2015 with their mother, and had a history of running away from home, according to US officials.

But investigators say it remains a "puzzle" as to how they came to be found dead on a riverbank more than 250 miles (400km) from their family's home.

The Saudi Consulate General said in a statement that embassy officials had contacted their family, and added that the sisters were students "accompanying their brother in Washington".

The Associated Press, citing New York police, said that the day before their bodies were discovered, their mother received a call from an official at the Saudi embassy ordering the family to leave because the girls had applied for political asylum.

The girls were discovered in Riverside Park last Wednesday wearing black leggings and black jackets and with duct-tape around their waists and ankles.

image copyrightNYPD
image captionPolice released sketches of the girls last week in an effort to identify their bodies

Police had originally theorised that the girls may have jumped from the George Washington Bridge, but ruled that out after finding a lack of obvious injuries which they would have sustained in the fall.

After releasing sketch drawings of the sisters, police were able to identify them on Friday, and are now seeking the public's help in learning more about their lives in the New York metro area in the past two months.

At a press conference on Wednesday, the city's chief of detectives said there are some "gaps" in the sisters' history, which investigators are trying to resolve.

"I'm confident that when the complete investigation is done we'll have a good idea of what exactly transpired," said Detective Dermot Shea.