Support pin for slain Coptic family quotes Matthew 10:28 (photo ? Carrie Devorah)
WASHINGTON – Relatives of a brutally slain New Jersey Christian family spoke out yesterday for the first time at a National Press Club news conference.
The bodies of the Coptic-American family, including father Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife Amal Garas, 37, and daughters Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were found bound and gagged with their throats slashed in their New Jersey home on Jan. 14. Hudson County prosecutors are said to be exploring several possible motives for the slayings, including retaliation by terrorists against Hossam Armanious, described as an outspoken advocate for Coptic Christian religious freedom in Egypt and a well-known leader of an online ministry to the Muslim-American community.
Yesterday’s news conference included a statement by U.S. Copts Association President Michael Meunier.
“We feel it is extremely important that the public hear the Armanious family members’ side of the story and we are pleased to help them express their point of view on this disturbing crime,” Meunier said.
Family members were cautious in their speech and unwilling to ascribe any outright motive for the slaying. When questioned by the press, Meunier did say the manner of the slayings was consistent with passages in the Quran that describe how to kill an infidel. The family stressed it is waiting for the investigation to play out. Regarding the possibility the slaying was a jihadist act, family uncle Emile Garas told WND afterward, “We’re not ruling anything out.”
The Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick, Washington representative of Christian Solidarity International and secretary general of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights, offered a statement relating to concerns over the manner in which the crime is being investigated.
“The investigation is not complete; no suspects have been identified,” said Roderick, “and the district attorney’s office of Hudson County is pursuing a number of theories related to the motive and nature of the crime. Public statements by that office indicate that theories related to robbery have been given precedence over a possible hate crime as a motive. By stressing that there are no facts substantiating a religious motivation to this crime, the confidence of the family has been eroded that the local investigation will lead to a resolution.”
Roderick said that a “great deal in the media” has been made of the potential conflict within the Christian and Muslim communities if the investigation leads to a religious motive. Indeed, an Associated Press story, “Slaying spurs new wave of anti-Muslim bias” detailed community tensions and quoted Ahmed Shedeed, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City as saying, “We Muslims living in America are getting sick of this crap. Why should we have to apologize for or make a defense of something we had nothing to do with? There is no proof at all that Muslims had anything to do with this, yet we are taking the blame again. Is Islam on trial, or is a killer on trial?”
“The central issue here,” Roderick said in his statement, “should not be about communal disputes, but the fact that the perpetrators of this vicious crime are still at large. To avoid pursuit of what may be the most obvious motive of the murder for fear of maligning one part of the Jersey City community or creating a backlash against that community is irresponsible.” The reverend indicated he hopes the investigation will confront the case “honestly without the fear of sectarian concerns.” Leaders of the communities and social workers are the people most qualified to address those concerns, not law enforcement, he said.
Roderick joined with his colleagues in urging the Justice Department to take a greater lead in the investigation and give special attention to the civil-rights dimension of the case.
“From the perspective of ethnic and religious minorities who have fled religious persecution in their native countries, this case is unnerving,” he said. “Many non-Muslim immigrants have told me that they believed that when they fled to the United States from these pressures, they would be safe. This case had made them feel vulnerable.”
The American Jewish Committee is also offering their support to the family, with New Jersey Area Director Allyson M. Gall sending a letter to Edward J. De Fabio, Hudson County prosecutor.
That letter read, in part, “While we are well aware that charges have not yet been brought, and that the full circumstances of this horrific murder are not yet known, we also know that there are valid reasons to consider that this may have been a hate crime, or even an act of terror. We cannot stress enough that the current heightened sense of fear in the Coptic community must be squarely addressed.”
Gall said that should the slaying turn out to be a hate crime or act of terror, her organization stands willing to give any appropriate assistance to the Coptic and Muslim community, including but not limited to helping organize other ethnic and religious groups to stand together and speak out against the intimidation inherent in such a crime.
Copies of Gall’s letter were also sent to Rep. Robert Menendez, Gov. Richard Codey, Jersey City Chief of Police Ronald Buonocore, Mayor of Jersey City Jerramiah T. Healey, Dr. Monir A. Dawoud and Attorney General Peter C. Harvey.
When asked by reporters whether any Muslim organizations had offered support, the family indicated they had received support only from Christian and Jewish organizations.
Family members addressed media rumors that robbery was a motive: “The Armaniouses were not rich. Hossam and his wife, Amal, lived modestly with their two young girls in Jersey City. Despite speculation regarding a possibly robbery, the facts before us today appear to contradict such a supposition. The jewelry in the home, including Amal’s ring, worth approximately $3,500, was left intact. As far as knowledge of our own family, the family did not keep large amounts of cash in their home so as to invite such a crime.”
They added, “If the primary motive was robbery, why would they have killed each person in such a cruel and vindictive manner? Robbery is certainly not a motive in this case.”
The family also dismissed another theory that has been circulated, that of an “old country vendetta” – an attempt to link an old Egyptian practice with the killings of the family. The family offered two reasons such a theory lacks credibility: “First, such vendettas, while common practice decades ago in Egypt, are no longer tolerated or practiced in modern society. Just as rivals in the West no longer engage in duels, so too has the notion of an old country vendetta or “tar” been eradicated from modern-day Egyptian society. Secondly, if such a theory were to be considered, the logical victims of such an attack would be family members in Egypt, and not here in the United States.”
The family said other misinformation published in recent reports includes a reference to Hossam Armanious’ alleged visit to Egypt last year as a factor in the slayings: “Hossam’s last visit to Egypt occurred in the summer of 2002 and played no role in the brutal murder of his family this year.”
Family member Garas told WND that the New York Post had asked him if the family had fled persecution. “Not true,” Garas told the Post reporter, who he said then published the theory anyway. The family is encouraging media to contact them directly with their questions. “We want the media to get their information right,” said Garas.
Family members also said they had no knowledge of any Internet threats against the family and had learned about the possibility after reading about it in the press.
Relatives praised the slain family, saying, “They were hardworking immigrants, devoted to their children, their church and their faith. Indeed, Hossam was a deeply religious man whose activities included engaging in religious dialogue via the Internet, on chat-rooms such as Paltalk, where Hossam practiced his newfound freedom of speech.”
“As we grieve the loss of our loved ones,” the family said, “we continue to demand and pray that justice be served. We respectfully request that such justice be rendered swiftly. As long as the murderers roam free, our streets are unsafe, and so we implore any person with information regarding the details of these brutal crimes to contact the appropriate authorities.”
Members of the Garas family present at the press conference included Ayman, Ferail, Elad Fahmy, Wanas, Alphonse, Milad, Gameel and Emile.