Police offer details in slaying of Coptic Christian family in New Jersey attributed to Islamists
Revelations made by Jihad Watch about false Muslim converts appear to spur release of information in the case
MIM : After the revelations by Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, that the Armanious family slayings may have been done by Muslims whom they falsely believed to have converted, a flurry of news articles has appeared and authorities are offering new details about the case.
The authorities call upon the public to refrain from speculating seems to have been lost on the director of the New Jersey Islamic Center Ahmed Shedeed. He voiced concern that Muslims would be blamed for the murders and ranted : "We Muslims in America are getting sick of this crap". (Miami Herald 1/23/05) http://www.webcommentary.com/asp/ShowArticle.asp?id=zieves&date=050122
Shedeed's comments as spokesman for the Muslim community and the Islamic Center of New Jersey speaks volumes about where their true concerns really lie. Not a word of condemnation, just a warning that people shouldn't blame Muslims and a belligerent statement saying that they 'have nothing to apologise for'.
"For people like Ahmed Shedeed, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City, the accusatory feeling is all too familiar.
"We Muslims living in America are getting sick of this crap," he said. "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?" http://www.homelandsecurityus.com/board/forum_posts.asp?TID=1084&PN=1
As was the case with the 9/11 attacks, the Muslim community and their organisations cried victimhood, while the real victims were blamed for causing 'anti Muslim sentiment' (!)
In the day following the murders,New Jersey Islamic Center director Ahmed Shedeed attempted to reassure the public by telling them that Muslims: ".. are not a bloody people.." http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/004666.php
Cops offer details in slaying of family
JERSEY CITY - Hossam Armanious was found dead in his bedroom. The body of his wife, Amal Garas, was in the next room. Their teenage daughter lay dead in the bedroom she shared with her little sister, whose body police found in the family's bathroom.
All were bound. Each had suffered stab wounds, including fatal neck punctures.
Police on Tuesday gave their most detailed account of the bloody killings of Armanious, 47, Garas, 37, and their daughters Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, while stopping short of releasing a comprehensive description of the gory crime scene.
The Armanious family was found dead in their Oakland Avenue home early Friday morning after concerned relatives reported to police that the family had been missing for days. Relatives and members of the family's Coptic Orthodox community suspect that threats against Hossam Armanious for his anti-Islam postings in an Internet chat room could be behind the murders.
No arrests had been made in the killings as of Tuesday afternoon, which has ignited tensions between Copts and Muslims in New Jersey's second-largest city. Several scuffles broke out Monday during the funeral for the Armanious family, a ceremony rife with anti-Islamic sentiment.
Authorities declined to disclose more detailed information about the murders, including what was used to bind and gag the family or what type of knife was used. They were deliberately withholding certain information that would only be known to those responsible for the murders, said First Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Guy Gregory.
Investigators were probing the murder-for-religion theory but were also looking into the possibility of a planned robbery. Money was taken from Hossam Armanious' wallet and Amal Garas' purse had been emptied, they said. Gregory also said that the killers rifled through drawers in the home.
Authorities confirmed Tuesday that a large amount of jewelry was left behind, and that there were no signs of a break-in.
"We continue to review several theories," Gregory said. "Our goal is to identify the killers. We believe that when the killers are identified, the motive for this wanton and vile crime will be revealed."
Key to solving crime lies in 'victimology'
A vendetta carried across an ocean. A quadruple killing sparked by arguments over religion in a chat room. A group of robbers bent on stealing an outwardly modest family's hidden wealth. Revenge exacted against a man who sought to convert fellow Egyptians to Christianity.
There are many theories surrounding the killing of a Jersey City family found bound and stabbed to death in their home Jan. 14, and just as many investigative avenues.
But the key to solving the crime, according to a pair of experts on criminal profiling, likely lies in the science of "victimology," the study of victims.
The identities of who killed Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife, Amal Garas, 37, and their daughters, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, lie somewhere in the victims' past, the experts say. And it's up to investigators to meticulously comb through even the smallest details of the Coptic Orthodox family's lives to uncover the motive behind one of the most shocking homicide cases in Hudson County history.
"The key to all of this is the victimology," said retired FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, an author and a expert on behavioral criminology. "You want to drill down on that family. Their e-mails and other correspondences. Phone records. Bank records. Everything."
"This sounds like a victim-targeted crime, not a random crime of opportunity, and with that there's going to be some link between the family and their attackers," he added. "The answer is going to be in there somewhere."
Police have released few details about the grisly slayings and are investigating several possible motives based on religion and robbery. Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said Friday that the victimology of the case is very important to solving it.
"I think that there's some sort of financial motivation," DeFazio said. "But you cannot discount any motive at this point, including the religious one. ... It doesn't have the earmarks of robbery being the primary motive."
A 'horrible' crime scene
Although authorities have not released the details of what some officials have termed a "terrible" and "horrible" crime scene, what is known about the case speaks volumes, according to the profilers.
Each family member's bound body was found in a different room of the Oakland Avenue home. Each bled to death from stab wounds to the neck and had suffered other knife wounds. There was no cash in the house, and someone had rifled through drawers and a purse. A "significant" amount of jewelry, however, was left untouched.
Some members of the Coptic Orthodox community, as well as some of Garas' relatives, quickly blamed Islamic fundamentalists for the slayings. Tensions between Copts and Muslims have since run high in Jersey City.
Meanwhile, on Friday, author Robert Spencer, who has been a vocal critic of radical Islam, posted an item on a Web site he runs, jihadwatch.org, that claimed Hossam Armanious was very active in trying to get Muslims to convert to Christianity.
Prosecutors said they have no evidence to support the theory that the family was killed for religions reasons.
Police have cautioned that robbery is a possibility and have asked the public to refrain from speculating. They pointed to the fact that money was taken.
"Just because somebody took money does not mean it is a robbery-based killing," said Louis B. Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "Taking money after some sort of ritualistic killing is not unusual."
Other elements of the publicly released information also point away from robbery, McCrary said.
"If we are talking a robbery motive, it would be very uncommon to have such extreme violence attached to it," he said. "Killing everybody in a family during a robbery is not common."
Another factor pointing away from robbery is that all of the family members died from knife wounds, which McCrary said is "extremely rare" in a robbery. Most robbers, both experts said, prefer the use of firearms because guns allow robbers an easy tool with which to control a situation.
"Knife killing is very close and very personal," McCrary said. "And to do it four times is very cold."
DeFazio, the prosecutor, seemed to agree with the profilers' assessment of the robbery-as-the-motive scenario, but would not rule it out.
"Clearly, I would agree that on the face of it there is more than just a robbery there," he said. "I agree that it is rare that a robbery goes this bad, but it does happen."
Why was this family selected?
Both Schlesinger and McCrary would like to see all the evidence in the case so they could develop a profile of the killers. And they have several key questions. Foremost among them is, what caused the Armanious family to go from your average family to victims of a gruesome homicide?
Other questions the pair mentioned are: Did the killers bring a "murder kit" with them to the house, including binds, gags and the weapon? If they did, this would all but eliminate any chance of the murders being a crime of opportunity.
Were there family members brought to different rooms for torture? How long were the killers in the house? Is there a pattern of home invasions in the area? DeFazio said there is not.
But at the heart of the case should be a study of the victims' lives, Schlesinger and McCrary said. Their business, social and familial relationships. Their financial holdings, including whether any family member may have bragged about money. There is some indication, authorities have said, that the family was wealthier than was apparent from their modest home and blue-collar jobs.
"When you look at the crime itself, what was the primary target? The family," McCrary said. "Where was the greatest effort expended? It was expended on murdering the family. ... It looks far more predatory than an emotional crime would."
McCrary and Schlesinger also caution against a "threshold diagnosis." First impressions of crimes, they said, can often prove wrong.
"Superficially, it has the earmarks of a hate crime," Schlesinger said. "In terms of victimology, the first thing that comes to mind is revenge. ... But you can't just go on superficial things.
DeFazio said the FBI is working on the case with county and city investigators. The crime scene evidence is, in fact, being processed by the FBI, not the New Jersey State Police, he said.
The prosecutor also said he would like very much for a profiler to help detectives in their investigation.
Checking computer records
Family members reported that Hossam Armanious was a participant in chat rooms about religion and would often engage in forceful debates about Islam and Christianity. Friends said he received death threats because of the discussions, and police are looking into computer records.
Although it is an avenue that police should thoroughly examine, McCrary said people who make threats usually don't carry them out.
"You have to separate those who make threats from those who pose threats," he said. "Those that make threats usually don't pose them. Those that pose threats usually don't make them. ... But certainly you have to pay attention to death threats and the religious chat room."
There are other scenarios besides religion, money or revenge, Schlesinger said, but none is very compelling.
"It could be someone who killed because of a psychosis, but that is very unlikely," he said. "It could be something of a sexual motivation, but that's unlikely too."
The lack of money in the home and the presence of jewelry have sparked debate about a possible robbery gone bad. There was no forced entry into the home. And no religious symbols - including tattoos each Armanious family member had on their wrists - were desecrated.
"The place was not broken into, but do not equate that to them being invited guests either," DeFazio said. "And you have robberies or burglaries where jewelry isn't taken sometimes, because the robbers don't want it to be traced."
The killers may have been interrupted during the crime and may not have had the time to complete it, the profilers said.
"Maybe they were going to burn down the house or destroy the symbols," McCrary said. "We don't know the dynamic of how it unfolded. ... Maybe they wanted to make it look like what a robbery would look like."
Or the robbery could have been to steer investigators away from the real motive. Likewise, the religious symbols could have been left alone to mask the religious reason behind the crime.
"Often crime scenes are staged to look like something else," Schlesinger said. "It's a very difficult crime for the police to deal with."
DeFazio, who said the slayings were not random and carried out by "a number of people," conceded the possibility that investigators might meet a dead end.
"Is there a chance? Yes. But I don't want to think that way," he said. "Unfortunately, whoever did this got a 72-hour head start. ... We're all thinking and we're all trying to get answers.