The gruesome and unsolved murder of a Coptic family in Jersey City, New Jersey, has created anger and anxiety among Copts in this multiethnic community, just a few miles from New York City.

Copts fear that Muslims may have brutally murdered Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife, Amal Garas, 37, and their two daughters, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, on January 14. Police discovered the bodies of the four family members bound and stabbed repeatedly, with their throats slit. Police are investigating whether the grisly incident was motivated by robbery or religious hatred.

In weeks prior to the killings, Hossam, described as a fervent Copt, had passionately debated Muslims in internet chat rooms. Copt leaders say he received an online anonymous death threat for proselytizing and for discussing the persecution of Christians in Egypt by Muslims.

Personally, I hope it was not Muslims who did this," Emad Fahmy, Amal Garas's brother-in-law, told CT. "But I ask myself, What else would motivate someone to do this?"

Police are investigating robbery as one potential motive, because the pockets of all the victims had been emptied and the family ATM card used. But Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association, notes that the family wasn't rich and that several pieces of jewelry, including a diamond ring, were not stolen from the home. "These were vengeful killings," he said.

Local Muslims expressed grief. "We have full sympathy for the family," said Chatha Arshad, president of the Muslim Federation of New Jersey, in Jersey City. "It is unimaginable what happened. We condemn it from the whole of our heart."

Osama Hassan, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City, doesn't believe Muslims are responsible. And he believes that if he's wrong, most Copts won't blame Islam itself. "Whoever did this crime has nothing to do with religion at all."

But when several Muslims tried to attend the funeral at the family's St. George and St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church, angry church members began screaming at them, and the Muslims left.

Local church members are in shock. "This was an American family, violated and killed in their home," said Labib Labib, a deacon at St. George. "It's given the message that the home is not safe and what happened to this family could happen to others. Children especially are afraid."

The U.S. Copts Association estimates 700,000 Coptic Orthodox, mostly Egyptian émigrés, live in the United States. An estimated 200,000 Copts and 200,000 Muslims live in New Jersey. The American Coptic Association is calling for the FBI's Civil Rights Unit to investigate whether the murders were religiously motivated.

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Meunier said the crime is a haunting reminder of the regular persecution Coptic believers experience in Egypt as a minority group there. "We came here seeking freedom to worship, to speak," he said. "If this turns out to be an act against freedom, it will be a devastating blow."

Related Elsewhere:

News elsewhere on the murders include:

Investigators focus on use of slain family's A.T.M. card | Hudson County investigators are studying video surveillance tapes made at automated teller machines where money was withdrawn from the account of a Jersey City man after the man and his family were stabbed to death in their home, the Hudson County prosecutor said yesterday. (New York Times, March 1, 2005)
Videos studied in slaying of family | Authorities on Monday said they were confident that ATM surveillance videos will lead to the arrest of a man they believe is connected to the January slaying of a family in the city's Heights section. ( , March 1, 2005)
Copts fear Christian conversion sparked unsolved murders | Family members who viewed the bodies say they suspect the brutal slayings were a warning not to proselytize to Muslims. They say that the body of Sylvia Armanious was clearly the most viciously attacked in the killings, causing them to wonder if it was because she was too vocal in sharing her faith. (WorldNetDaily, March 1, 2005)
Armanious family relatives go to D.C. | Relatives of Hossam Armanious - who along with his wife and two daughters was savagely murdered last month at Jersey City, N.J. - said at a press conference here yesterday that the family was probably killed because of their religious beliefs. (New York Sun, Feb. 16, 2005)
Web site investigated in wake of murders | The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into what role, if any, a radical Islamic Web site may have played in last month's grisly slaying of a Coptic Christian family in Jersey City. (City Journal, New Jersey, Feb. 10, 2005)
Christians on PalTalk chat service tracked by radical Islamic web site | A radical Islamic Web site systematically tracks Christians on, an Internet chat service on which a New Jersey man received a death threat two months before he and his family were murdered. The password protected Arabic Web site, at the address, features pictures and information about Christians who have been particularly active in debating Muslims on PalTalk. (New York Sun, Jan. 31, 2005)
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Family, friends mourn slain N.J. family | A funeral procession for two parents and their two daughters found brutally slain in their home last week drew hundreds of mourners Monday and some in the crowd blamed the deaths on simmering religious tensions in the family's native Egypt. (Associated Press, Jan. 17, 2005)

The U.S. Copts Association has links, articles, and more information about Copts around the world.

Other articles about Coptic Christians include:

A Copt at College | An Egyptian Christian talks about college and church in America (March 26, 2004)
Light Verdict Stuns Egypt's Christians | Only 2 of 95 defendants convicted in Muslim mob killings of Copts. (May 07, 2003)
Muslims Convicted After Fatal Attack on Copts | But fearful Christians in Upper Egypt say many killers are still at large. (March 3, 2003)
Egypt Acquits All Muslim Murder Suspects | Judge blames Coptic clergy for inciting El-Kosheh hostilities. (Feb. 7, 2001)
Egyptian Court Releases All 89 El-Kosheh Defendants | Muslim murder suspects all set free without bail. (Dec. 12, 2000)
Egypt Jails Christian for Three Years for 'Insulting Islam' | 'Extremely harsh judgement' for El-Kosheh Copt to be appealed. (Aug. 9, 2000)
Egyptian Security Police Threaten, Torture Local Christian | Coptic Orthodox layman targeted for alleged evangelism activities.(July 10, 2000)
Egyptian Court Convicts Christian Villager of Murder | Shaiboub Arsal Given Maximum 15-Year Sentence. (June 9, 2000)
Egyptian Priest Accused of Attempted Murder | Village cleric charged with 'provoking violence' in El-Kosheh (Feb. 11, 2000)
Egypt's Christians seek answers after deadly riots | At least 21 Christians killed in clash with Muslims (Jan. 13, 2000)
Church of the Martyrs | Copts thrive in the face of bloody carnage, legal restraint, and discrimination. (August 11, 1997)