Argument over faiths probed in killing of 4
Jersey City man received chat-room death threat
Sunday, January 16, 2005
BY MIKE FRASSINELLI AND MARK MUELLER
Authorities are exploring whether a religious argument in an Internet chat room led to the slaughter of a Coptic Christian couple and their two daughters in their Jersey City home, relatives of the slain family said yesterday.
One of the victims, 47-year-old Hossam Armanious, spent some of his spare time in chat rooms devoted to the Egyptian religious sect, at times proselytizing and at times writing about persecution of Coptic Christians by Muslims, family friends said.
Armanious' hobby took a dark turn about two months ago, friends said, when he was threatened after writing comments deemed an insult to Islam by another person logged in to a chat site.
'Some Muslim guys said if you don't stop this, we're going to come out and kill you,' said a family friend, who requested anonymity, citing fears for his safety.
First Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Guy Gregory would not comment on the possibility that the slayings were a bias crime.
'We are continuing the investigation, making inquiries on several theories, and will not comment further,' Gregory said.
The friend said Armanious told him about the threat but did not seem especially worried about it. Those logged into the chat rooms frequented by Armanious are identified only by nicknames, providing a measure of anonymity.
Investigators, however, remain interested in the lead.
An uncle of Armanious' wife, Amal Garas, said yesterday that detectives told him they were pursuing the chat room argument as a possible motive for the slayings. The uncle, Milad Garas, was one of many family members interviewed by police Friday.
'One detective said this was his theory,' the uncle said.
Update from the New York Post:
Armanious' fervor apparently rubbed off on his daughter, Sylvia — who would have turned 16 yesterday.
"She was very religious and very opinionated," said Jessica Cimino, 15, a fellow sophomore at Dickenson HS.
A family member who viewed photos of the bloodbath said Sylvia seemed to have taken the most savage punishment.
"When we saw the pictures, you could tell that they were hurt really, really bad in the face; especially Sylvia," said Milad Garas, the high-school sophomore's great-uncle.
The heartless killer not only slit Sylvia's throat, but also sliced a huge gash in her chest and stabbed her in the wrist, where she had a tattoo of a Coptic cross.
Also found murdered were the wife, Amal Garas, and the parents' other daughter, Monica.
Fred Ayed, the deacon at St. George and St. Shenouda Church, where the deeply religious family attended services, said he's worried that the murders could have a ripple effect.
"I am concerned for the safety of our community," said Ayed, who knew Hossam for 30 years. "People are scared because one family was slain like cows," said Moheb Ghabour, publisher of a local newspaper for the Coptic community.
Osama Hassan, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City, described the relationship between Copts and Muslims as cooperative if not friendly.
"I think there might be people that can get into physical fights, but not to the point of murder," Hassan said.
Both the deacon and uncle poured cold water on the theory that the family were the victims of a robbery gone wrong.
"This is not a robbery, Ayed said. "We found all of the jewelry in the house. They didn't take anything."
The FBI confirmed it has been called in to help with the case.