The mystery deaths of two Saudi sisters in Sydney

August 12, 2022 6:03 am

Amaal Abdullah Alsehli (from left) and Asra Abdullah Alsehli. [Photo: BBC News]

On 7 June, Australian authorities knocked on the door of a Sydney apartment.

Mail was piled up outside the door, and the tenants hadn’t paid rent in more than three months.

Inside, they found two dead women – sisters from Saudi Arabia – whose bodies had laid undiscovered, in separate bedrooms, for weeks.

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Two months on, despite “extensive inquiries”, police remain baffled over what happened to Asra Abdullah Alsehli, 24, and Amaal Abdullah Alsehli, 23.

There were no signs of forced entry to the apartment and no obvious signs of injury, police have said, describing the deaths as “suspicious” and “unusual”.

They’re still waiting for a coroner to conclude how the women died. Local media reported initial toxicology and autopsy results were inconclusive.

“We don’t know a lot about the girls,” Detective Insp Claudia Allcroft told reporters last month in an appeal for public help.

“We hope that someone may be able to assist our investigators.”

Little has been made public. The pair moved to Australia from Saudi Arabia in 2017 and sought asylum but authorities have not said why.

Police have said there is “nothing to suggest” their family should be considered suspects.

Both women worked as traffic controllers while they studied at a vocational education school. What they were studying is unknown.

Neighbours of the sisters have told local media that they mostly kept to themselves.

Their building manager has told reporters the pair had asked him to check security footage in the months before their deaths. According to Michael Baird, they had been concerned their food deliveries were tampered with. The footage did not reveal anything.

Mr Baird asked police to check on them in March, and they told officers they were fine.

When he later stopped by himself, the pair seemed like “two little sparrows… scared of something”, Mr Baird told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Though police remain tight-lipped, the case has generated huge interest in Australia – was it suicide, foul play, or something else?

Local media reports may provide some clues – but none have been confirmed by police. Furthermore, this jumble of information has often painted an unclear or seemingly contradictory picture.

The Australian newspaper reported that one of the women feared being persecuted in Saudi Arabia because of her sexuality, and the other had become an atheist. Both homosexuality and atheism are illegal in conservative Islamic country.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported necklaces with Christian crucifixes were found in the women’s rooms.

Another report said their asylum claims had been rejected and they had struggled to pay rent.

One unidentified person told the ABC he spotted an unfamiliar man in the lobby of the sisters’ building several times before they died. When confronted, he said he was from the women’s apartment.

It has also been reported that Asra, the older sister, took out a restraining order against an unnamed man in 2019, but dropped it soon after.

Police have not commented on any of these reports, and the BBC has been unable to independently verify them.