‘They were a happy family,’ says relative of Saudi sisters found dead in New York

The relative of Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, told Arab News that the family of six was just like any other Saudi family who moves between home and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 30 October 2018

‘They were a happy family,’ says relative of Saudi sisters found dead in New York

  • Claims they committed suicide or ran away are refuted by grief-stricken family member
  • Family’s privacy used to explain why they didn’t have a presence on social media

JEDDAH: A grief-stricken family member of the two Saudi sisters found dead last Wednesday on the shores of the Hudson River in New York City said they were both happy and supported, refusing to believe reports that they committed suicide or had run away.
The relative of Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, told Arab News that the family of six was just like any other Saudi family who moves between home and abroad. They had decided to move to the United States a few years ago, seeking better schools for the sisters and their two brothers, 18 and 11 years old. The children lived with their mother, Wafa’a, in the Virginia suburbs, and their father, Abdulsalam, often travelled back to Saudi Arabia, where he had a job.
“They were just like any one of us, they were a happy family. They were comfortable and at ease with everyone, and so the rumors that they ran away from home were beyond us. It’s impossible. Their mother was naturally protective, but in no way was their household problematic for them to run away.”
The relative rebutted media claims that the girls ran away from home and were missing for two months.
Rotana was specializing in computer and information technology at college and recently moved to New York, where she changed schools and her major. Tala was reported missing when she went to see her sister in New York this summer without her mother’s knowledge, the family member explained.
“Tala was upset for quite some time after her sister decided to continue her studies in NYC. Yes, it did cause a problem for the family as the mother had to file a missing case report to the police over her daughter’s disappearance, but the search was called off later when they found Tala was with her sister, Rotana. The police told their mother that since her younger daughter was safe with an adult, it’s safe to call off the search.”
An amber alert was issued by the Fairfax County Police Department on Aug. 24 but later was removed after the younger sister’s whereabouts were confirmed.
The two young women were very close to their father as they both were the apples of his eyes, the relative said. Although Saudi students have the option of applying for a full government scholarship to study abroad, Rotana decided not to, indicating that the family is financially well off.
The girls’ relative spoke of how humble and shy they were. They were both gifted in school; before moving to the States, Tala had a full-year scholarship from one of Jeddah’s most prestigious schools, Dar Al-Fikr. As any teen their age, they were both into fashion, but not very much into social media.
“They were private and kept to themselves most of the time, but we communicated mostly via Snapchat and it wasn’t a surprise to any of us that they wouldn’t have any accounts on other social media apps,” said the family member. “They were calm and always polite. All families have problems. What kind of sibling relationship would it be without fights every now and then? But that didn’t push them to the edge as the Western media is portraying.”
The initial report of the medical examiner at the scene was that no trauma was found on the bodies, which were bound together.
A statement from the Saudi Arabian consulate in New York City on Monday said it is following up on the case to find out the facts. The embassy in Washington, DC also sought to communicate with the family of the victims “to stand with them and help them in this circumstance.”
Arab News contacted the New York Police Department and was told the case was referred to the criminal investigation unit while the cause of death was still pending determination. They do not rule out anything at this time. More updates will be available.


Iraq denies links to drone attack on Saudi oil facilities

Updated 59 min 4 sec ago

Iraq denies links to drone attack on Saudi oil facilities

  • Kuwait investigating the sighting of a drone over its territory and is coordinating with Saudi Arabia
  • US says no evidence attacks came from Yemen, as claimed by the Houthis

JEDDAH: Baghdad on Sunday denied any link to drone attacks on Saudi oil plants, after media speculation that the strikes were launched from Iraq despite being claimed by Yemeni rebels.
The attacks early Saturday targeted two key oil installations, causing massive fires and taking out half of the Kingdom’s vast oil output.
The operation was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, where an Arab coalition has been fighting to restore the internationally recognized government.
But the Wall Street Journal reported that officials were investigating the possibility the attacks involved missiles launched from Iraq or Iran.

Some Iraqi media outlets also said Saturday’s attack on Saudi oil facilities came from Iraq but Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi on Sunday denied the reports and vowed to punish anyone who did use Iraq as a launch pad for attacks in the region. 
“Iraq is constitutionally committed to preventing any use of its soil to attack its neighbors,” he said. “The Iraqi government will be extremely firm with whomever tries to violate the constitution.”

The reports come after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo squarely accused Tehran of being behind Saturday’s operation, saying there was no evidence the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” was launched from Yemen.

Kuwait also said it was investigating the sighting of a drone over its territory and is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and other countries. 
“The security leadership has started the necessary investigations over the sighting of a drone over the coastline of Kuwait City and what measures were taken to confront it,” the Kuwaiti cabinet said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah directed military and security officers to tighten security at vital installations and to take all necessary measures “to protect Kuwait’s security.”
Local Kuwaiti media reported that witnesses say they saw a drone near a presidential palace on Saturday morning, around the same time of the attacks in Saudi Arabia.
Iraq is home to several Iran-backed militias and paramilitary factions, placing it in an awkward situation amid rising tensions between its two main sponsors, Tehran and Washington.

Iraq has called for its territory to be spared any spillover in the standoff between the US and Iran, which has included a series of attacks on shipping in sensitive Gulf waters.
Recent raids on bases belonging to Iraqi Shiite paramilitary groups linked with Iran, attributed to Israel, sparked fears of an escalation.
There have been no military consequences so far, but the strikes have heightened divisions between pro-Tehran and pro-Washington factions in Iraq’s political class.
Baghdad has recently moved to repair ties with Saudi Arabia, a key US ally — much to Iran’s chagrin.
Riyadh recently announced a major border post on the Iraqi frontier would reopen mid-October, after being closed for almost three decades.