FBI investigating murder of Syrian journalist and activist mother
Opposition activist Orouba Barakat, 60, and journalist daughter Halla, 23, were strangled and stabbed to death in their apartment in Istanbul on September 21.
Their bodies were doused with a chemical solution that delayed the decomposition of their remains, police said, an indication that the killer could have been a professional.
Halla was born in North Carolina, meaning the FBI has legal jurisdiction to investigate the killing of any American citizen killed overseas. Without cooperation from local authorities, however, the FBI's investigative capabilities are limited, ABC News reported.
In a letter to Muslim civil rights group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which called for the FBI to investigate their deaths, George Piro, the assistant director of the FBI’s international operations division, said the Turkish National Police "respectfully declined the FBI’s assistance," though they are sharing some information.
"The TNP is awaiting forensic evidence to be analysed and currently has a suspect in custody who is strongly believed to be the perpetrator of the homicide of Halla and Orouba Barakat," Piro wrote.
Turkish authorities arrested Ahmat Barakat, a Syrian cousin and former Free Syrian Army fighter, who is being held as a suspect in the murders.
Turkish and US officials said he has confessed to the killings, telling prosecutors he killed them because they owed him money, ABC News reported.
But prosecutors, and the Barakats' relatives, are sceptical of this motive, believing he was an operative of the Assad regime who had been ordered to assassinate the women.
Halla was a reporter for the Syrian opposition outlet Orient News, while Orouba was an active figure in the Syrian Opposition Council, a group of Syrian expatriates that stand against the Assad regime.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating "whether [Halla’s] death was work-related". Orouba was also believed to have been gathering critical evidence implicating the Assad regime in gross human rights violations.
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis called on the US government to remain involved in the investigation, noting that evidence could ultimately lead back to the Assad regime.
"The murders of Halla Barakat and her mother Orouba are tragic, and the circumstances are deeply troubling," he said in a statement to ABC News.
"American authorities should continue to closely monitor the investigation, including the possibility of involvement of the Assad regime, which has an open disdain for life and the freedoms the Barakat family has been pushing for in Syria."