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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Arrest of two men in slaying of Coptic Christian family leaves unanswered questions

Arrest of two men in slaying of Coptic Christian family leaves unanswered questions

Investigations ongoing in New Jersey - religious motive not ruled out
March 9, 2005

MIM: The arrests of the two upstairs tenants in the Armanious killings was announced yesterday. Many people have reacted with caution, and the feeling of the Coptic community was summed up by a Bishop who stated that;

" ...But a lot of things are not clear yet . It's very difficult to believe that four people were killed just to steal a card to take some money out of an ATM machine. A lot of things need to be explained in more detail..." see complete article below


MIM: Robert Spencer posted this update on his Jihad Watch website on 1/25/05. He emphasises the fact that authorities appear to be deliberately downplaying the possibility that the killings could have been politically motivated. In the meantime, a family friend named the name of an Islamic cleric who declared that the family's blood was 'halal' (issued a fatwa saying they could be killed). The Muslim in question is reported to have fled the country.


A note on the Armanious slaying



click on the links for comments and further information

Jihad in New Jersey: Coptic Christian family slain and mutilated : 'Islamic Hate' cited as motive

For background information and articles


Police offer details in slaying of Coptic Christian family attributed to Islamist


Denying Terror



MIM: The latest from Robert Spencer and Jihad Watch

At Jihad Watch we have received a large number of inquiries, both sober and frenzied, about the Coptic family found murdered in Jersey City last week.

As is well known, the Copts in Jersey City and elsewhere have many suspicions about this crime. But when they have voiced these suspicions, they have been frequently denounced as "Islamophobes" – an all-purpose term of abuse used to silence criticism of Islam and of Muslims. And Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio is dismissive of the idea that the killings were religiously motivated: "Is it possible? Yes. Do we have anything that gives us reason to believe this is what it was, factually? No. Nothing indicates that was the prime motivation for this. That we can clearly say."

Nothing? Law enforcement officials have received information from at least one Copt — a close friend of the Armanious family — indicating that the crime was indeed religiously motivated. This family friend has said that an imam in Jersey City declared this Christian family's blood "halal," (i.e., licit to shed), because of their proselytizing activities among Muslims. He has named — by name — a suspect in this crime, whose motive was religious and who has fled the country.

Perhaps there is nothing to this. Perhaps the man who has fled is innocent. But even if he is, the Copts have had perfectly cogent reasons for their suspicions. The Armanious family was outspoken in trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. Hossam Armanious vigorously spread his faith at PalTalk, and his 15-year-old daughter Sylvia displayed similar zeal at Dickinson High School. There is credible evidence that for this activity the family received a death threat. In light of all that, it may be that what needs to be justified is the idea that their deaths were in fact unrelated to that proselytizing activity. Islamic law, the Sharia, has traditionally made it a capital offense both for a Muslim to leave Islam, and for a non-Muslim to attempt to convert a Muslim. Many Muslims take such laws very seriously. The Theo van Gogh murder in the Netherlands indicates that at least some will not hesitate to enforce Sharia penalties even in the lands of the infidels.

But if the killer is never caught, which is a distinct possibility since he could be half a world away by now, Muslim spokesmen will attribute the suspicions of the Copts to a "climate of hysteria" against Muslims, and portray themselves — as they do so often — as victims.

Still, a larger question remains. If the Armanious family did in fact receive a death threat related to their proselytizing on Pal Talk, what are the implications for our free society? If the murders were indeed, as many Copts suspect, a warning to them not to proselytize among Muslims, what does that mean for the free exchange of ideas that has always been one of the central values – perhaps the central value – of the American polity?

The mainstream media has done a poor job of covering this case. It has not bothered to explain that the difficulties Copts experience in Egypt are not "old" or even "centuries-old" (as the New York Times put it) — they are as old as when the Muslim invaders first conquered Coptic Christian Egypt. They don't come from anything Copts have said or done to Muslims, but from the supremacist nature of Islamic beliefs. But in the media in general there has been no understanding of this and no discussion of the Sharia — or of how apostates in Islam are to be treated, or of what punishment is to be meted out to those who dare (as the Armanious family dared) not to act as the despised and cowed minority they were in Egypt, but as free and equal and proud citizens of this country.

No statement has come from the Hudson County Prosecutors Office that shows any sign that that Office has considered these questions, or fully investigated the Copts' suspicions and allegations. This may not have been a Sharia-inspired killing on American soil, but nothing that has yet come from Edward DeFazio or anyone else seems to deal adequately with the indications that it was. White House Wilsonians seem intent on bringing "democracy" to Iraq, as if that will somehow solve the problem of Islam, and of the jihad that they persist in identifying solely by one of its tools, terrorism. Meanwhile, an unknown number of Muslims in the United States — possibly including the killer of the Armanious family — are working to solve the problems of Islam by laboring, in one way or another, to bring Sharia to this country.

But few are paying attention to that.

Posted at January 24, 2005 09:34 PM


MIM: William Mayer editor of Pipeline News


Perspective – The Armanious Murders

Following the brutal murder of the Hossam Armanious family [Hossam Armanious, 47, wife, Amal Garas, 37, and two daughters, Sylvia Armanious, 16, and Monica Armanious, 9], in their modest New Jersey home, the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office has resorted to a "don't call us we'll call you" tactic.

The office is operating in a siege-like lockdown mode and prosecutor Edward DeFazio is tripping all over himself to publicly deny what now seems rather obvious, that this tragedy is most likely based upon religious intolerance – Muslim on Christian intolerance.

On January 14, the Armanious family was found bound, gagged and savagely slashed in a manner suggestive of the well-known Quranic invocation regarding how to kill an infidel.

"When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly…"- Sura 47:4

What has been so far missing from most media accounts of this gruesome event is any background information that might help to place it in some sort of perspective.

For example, the term Copt is bandied about with little precision. The word itself simply meaning "of Egypt" and taken from the Greek Hikaptah.

St. Mark brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero - six hundred years before the Muslim Arab invasion which took place in the seventh century. The Copts rich history of contributions to Christianity include the Church of Alexandria and the creation of monasticism under St. Anthony.

Christianity in Egypt has traditionally suffered under Islamic persecution and continues to do so today – many Coptic Christians today wear small tattoos - now as a source of religious pride – a reminder of the tattoos that were forced upon them by Egyptian Muslims as a method of identifying themselves in earlier times.

Jama el-Islamiya is Egypt's largest Islamic terrorist group. They have been active since the late ‘70s and have cadres of supporters in several countries worldwide, including the United States. The group's spiritual leader - Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman, the "blind shaykh" - may sound familiar, it should; he was convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and sentenced to life in prison for his involvement.

Jama al-Islamiya is a very strong force in Egypt and is at the heart of much of the anti-Christian activity there. Organizationally they are not unlike the Irish Republican Army, having both a political wing as well as a military wing. Though officially banned from overt political activity under the Mubarak regime, Jama el-Islamiya can claim 17 representatives in the Egyptian parliament who will do their bidding. They wield considerable influence within the daily affairs of Egypt, having a strong representation in the professional groups as well as government.

"The culture of intolerance has grown enormously in the last few years…[Jama al-Islamiya ] has taken over the judiciary…many professional societies…they are head of the doctor syndicate and engineering, these are not just professional societies like they are here, they control everything." – February 5, 2005 conversation with Michael Meunier, President US Copts Association.

Disciples of this group are everywhere, including the Egyptian media.

Articles published in Egyptian newspapers, especially those like the hard-line militant Egyptian weekly Al-Usboa [edited by Mustafa Bakri] rail against the perceived phenomenon of Moslems being converted over the internet by Copts. Al-Usboa is supportive of bin-Laden, the terrorists in Iraq and offers a regular fare which includes hate-filled screeds against the United States, Israel and the Jews.

Bakri is not a wealthy man in his own right, and it is openly speculated that he receives his funding from the Saudis, recently having been a dinner guest of Saudi Arabia's King Faisal during Ramadan.

Al-Usboa has wide readership among New Jersey Muslims and it seems likely that its demagogic efforts against Coptic Christians have had their effect.

The Copts are understandably upset and angry, having noted that prosecutor Fazio has made a series of statements which seem to indicate that, despite assurances to the contrary, he has erred on the side of political correctness, downplaying the links to Islam visible in the methodology and facts surrounding the Armanious murders.

Not the least of these links is the long-time Muslim technique of becoming "like the unbeliever" in order to weaken him from within, this even extends to false religious conversion by Muslims seeking to gather intelligence. In Egypt this information was reported back to the government, which would then result in increased persecution. Of course such information also filtered over to Jama al-Isamiya who then doled out an even more harsh form of reprisal.

It is instructive to keep in mind that the 911 hijackers, while in Florida previous to the attack, were often seen in bars drinking alcoholic beverages and in strip clubs, both of which are against Islamic law, except as part of the above described technique.

That Hossam Armanious apparently spent considerable time in internet chat environments arguing religion with Muslims is a central fact in this case, as is both the lack of evidence of forced entry into the Armanious house and the lack of robbery as a motive in the murder – family jewelry was untouched during the attack, including a $3,500 ring on the finger of Hossam's wife, Amal.

Under intense community pressure, the prosecutor's office has made an effort to rectify some of its earlier misstatements regarding the Armanious murder. At first they claimed that there was no evidence that it was committed by Muslims, but upon questioning by Coptic leaders they backtracked and admitted that they had no evidence that Muslims did not commit the murder either, therefore admitted that they should not have made the statement, which was immediately seized upon by Islamist pressure groups such as CAIR.

For the record the lead prosecutor, Edward DeFazio claims that this was the worst crime he has ever seen, and it therefore seems inconsistent with a "simple" case of homicide. The nature of the cultural realities surrounding the crime, the fact that expensive jewelry was found in the home, the realization that the Armanious family was by no means wealthy, the sadistic nature of the attack itself, all add up to this being an act of vengeance, that these people were slaughtered in a manner not dissimilar to what we have seen emanating from Zarqawi's thugs in Fallujah.

While the resolution of this case might still turn in other directions, at this point anyway the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence points to a very dark act coming from a traditional religious enemy of Egyptian Christianity, and that explaining it away - in any other manner - is more an exercise in multicultural blindness than anything else.


Excerpts from Pamela Hemelrijk's article : "De Westbank van Europa" translated by Beila Rabinowitz director MIM

According to columnist Pamela Hemelrijk Theo van Gogh's murder was not the first ritual murder committed by Muslims in Holland:

"...Did you know that Theo was not the first victim who of one of Allah's via the Mufti's approved Muslim executions? Two others preceded him, this according to The Telegraaf (newpaper). 'Both times there was a letter attached to the body, just as in the case of Theo van Gogh. Justice has deliberately kept quiet about this detail.

Look at this, the Jihad had already been started several years ago, but the justice department thought it was better to keep it to themselves. You ask yourself what else they are keeping from us. And are going to keep quiet about. Because the censorship is only now going to be set at full speed, mark my words 'To prevent societal onrest'. The fact that 25 people in the train to Zutphen became ill, you hear nothing about. All that we were being told was that it was not caused by a gas leak in the cargo wagens. Whatever caused it , seems not to have been deemed worth pursuing by the media . They just switched subjects and wrote detailed accounts of the beginning of the 'Sinter Klaas' holiday..."

MIM: For more on ritual murders committed by Muslims which were deemed by authorities to be 'not religously motivated' see:

"I have killed my Jew" Are the ritual murders of Ariel Sellouk in Houston and Sebastian Sellam in Paris linked to Takfir wal Hijrah?




Ignoring Muslim Murder on U.S. Soil
By Maria Sliwa
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 4, 2005

It's a fearsome prospect: Christian proselytizing may have caused the murders of four Coptic Christians slain last month in New Jersey. Relatives of the murdered family, as well as key figures in the American Coptic community, think so -- and believe the brutal slayings were a warning not to proselytize Muslims. They say that the body of the 15-year-old daughter, Sylvia Armanious, was the most viciously attacked in the killings. Was it because she was too vocal in sharing her faith or was it a robbery gone bad?

"Sylvia talked about Jesus to everyone," her uncle Ayman Garas said. "She was extremely religious."

On Jan. 14 the bodies of Amal Garas, 37, her husband, Hossam Armanious, 47, and their daughters Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were found in their home bound and gagged with puncture wounds to their throats. The unsolved murders were thrust into the spotlight again earlier in February when the relatives of the victims went to Washington to meet with lawmakers and hold a press conference to put an end to rumors about why the family was murdered and to ask for a fair investigation.

"We aren't looking for trouble, we are just looking for the facts," Emil Garas, an uncle of one of the victims, said.

This week, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio told reporters that someone using Hossam Armanious' debit card removed thousands of dollars from several of his accounts during a string of ATM visits in the days following the murders. Yesterday, DeFazio announced that it may be unlikely investigators will be able to decipher the license plate of the car used to make the ATM withdrawals.

Many Copts believe that conversion sparked the murders. While Dr. Monir Dawoud, the acting president of the American Coptic Association, says that proselytizing is not a common practice among Coptic Christians, it is common for the denomination of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church that Sylvia attended in Jersey City. Congregants at this church call themselves "born-again."

A number of Sylvia's friends interviewed at the Mid East Evangelical church, said that tension ensued after Sylvia befriended the Muslim daughter of a Halal butcher and encouraged her to convert to Christianity. They said they fear Sylvia's Christian influence on this girl may have provoked the killings that followed.

When asked today about the progress of the case, the Hudson County Prosecutor said: "We believe based on our investigation that it's a financially motivated crime of robbery and greed. We doubt that it has to do with extremism. Nothing is being discounted, but it does not appear to the various law enforcement agencies working on the case to be religiously motivated."

But according to Robert Spencer, the director of JihadWatch.org, terrorism and plunder often go together under Islamic law. "It isn't necessarily an either or proposition," Spencer says. "It is lawful under Islam to kill and seize the property of those who war against Islam."

Spencer says he obtained information, from sources close to the murders, that the Halal butcher had planned the killings for months and that several of his accomplices are still in the country. Spencer says police are investigating. But when DeFazio was asked about the information his office was provided, he said: "None of that was given any credence by any law enforcement agencies. Our office has not received any names." But Spencer gave the Hudson County Prosecutor's office very detailed information (names, locations and phone numbers) of the alleged murderers and their accomplices. When reminded of this, DeFazio then said that he did receive this information, but he appeared uncertain if all those named were questioned before this avenue of investigation was closed.

DeFazio is certain about one thing. All talk of religious extremism is off limits. "This case has nothing to do with religious extremism," he said. "And if you keep asking these questions, I won't continue with the interview."

Friends of Sylvia and fellow churchgoers say that though they are grateful for the investigators on the case, they are still convinced that conversion is the motivating factor for the Jersey City murders and fear this will encourage an increase in the persecution of converts (and those who convert them) in the U.S., as is the case in Egypt.

Freedom House, a Washington-based nonpartisan organization that monitors the global spread of democracy, says Coptic Christians in Egypt live in oppression and fear. "While Egypt has no explicit law against apostasy, the influence of Sharia law on the civil code is creating a de facto law," which sanctions intolerance. Each year thousands of Copts convert to Islam, many under pressure, and Christians have an emigration rate three to four times that of Muslims due to religious persecution, Freedom House reports. Coptic church sources estimate that more than a million Copts have left Egypt in the past thirty years.

Egyptian Muslim leaders in Jersey City, however, insist that such persecution in America is not likely. Hamed el Shenawany, the president of Jersey City's Al Huda Islamic Center, says that though it is possible that a "crazy fanatic" could have sought retribution against the Armanious family, Christian proselytizing is fully accepted by Muslims in the U.S. "America is the land of the free and Muslims are free to convert to any religion they want," el Shenawany says.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior terrorism analyst at the Washington-based Investigative Project, a terrorism research center, disagrees and says this hatred has crossed international borders. "It's an unfortunate fact that even in the West many converts from Islam to Christianity are driven underground in the practice of their new faith because they fear retaliation," he says. "A number of converts in the U.S. have received serious threats, particularly if they're outspoken in their new faith." There is little data, he adds. But he notes that "At least ten cases since the mid-1990s in which apostates from Islam living in the West have reported threats, in places that include Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Britain and the Netherlands. In some cases, the apostates have reported actual physical violence."

It's not hard to find such cases. A former Muslim from Egypt, who wouldn't give his name for this article for fear of retribution, says he fled to America in 1992, after he was severely beaten for converting to Christianity. He says he was threatened in 2001 when he began discussing his faith with Muslims on PalTalk, a New York City-based internet chat service. Though Saleh admits that his debates were often too fervent on the net, he was shocked to find photos of himself and family members, along with all of his contact information, on a radical Islamic website called Gegadeath.com. Below Saleh's picture was a statement of warning. After he appeared on Gegadeath, Saleh says he received numerous death threats on the phone and quickly moved to another state.

Last month Ahmed Mohamed, 36, a former Muslim in Colorado, who converted to Christianity, discovered that his photo and contact information were posted on another radical Islamic website, Barsomyat.com, along with accusations that he'd been debating Muslims on PalTalk. He says that since his information was posted, he has received numerous threats on the phone, in person and in letters he has received in the mail.

Whether robbery or extremism is the motive, family members of the Armanious family in New Jersey live in inconsolable grief and continue to hope that the murderers will soon be identified.

"I think of Amal, Hossam, Sylvia and Monica all the time," Sylvia's grandmother Ferail Garas said. "Like a movie, their deaths keep playing over and over in my mind. Whenever I am alone, I cannot stop crying."

"I just want the killers of my family found."



Arrests seen unlikely to end religious strife

Monday, March 07, 2005 By Molly BloomJournal staff writer

Tense feelings between Coptic Orthodox Christians and Muslims over the mid-January killings of four Egyptian-American Christians in Jersey City seem unlikely to vanish quickly, despite the arrests of two men who authorities say murdered the family to cover up a robbery.

Many Muslims and Copts expressed relief after prosecutors Friday announced the arrests of two convicted drug dealers and said the motive was money, not religion.

Some in the Coptic community said they will withhold judgment until more information comes out or the defendants are convicted. Area Muslims, meanwhile, remain upset after being put on the defensive for the last seven weeks as many Copts and even some national commentators speculated that Muslim extremists were behind the killings.

The arrests, said Mohamed Younef, president of the American Muslim Union, a New Jersey group, "should get people to understand they should not jump to conclusions so quickly and try to accuse before seeing what the facts are is."

The accusations were fueled by rumors that Hossam Armanious, 47, one of the four people killed, had engaged in online arguments with Muslims on a Christian Web site, and by long-standing tensions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt. Copts are a minority in the predominantly Muslim nation, where 21 Copts were killed in rioting five years ago.

At the funeral for Armanious, his 37-year-old wife, Amal Garas, and their daughters Sylvia, 16, and Monica, 9, many mourners yelled that Muslims were responsible. In recent weeks, some members of the Coptic community reported three neighborhood Muslim businessmen to the FBI over alleged involvement in the crime. And Copt leaders decried mistreatment of Christians in Egypt at a neighborhood meeting.

"There was a great hue and cry," Jersey City Mayor Jerremiah Healy said. "It was based on prejudice, hysteria and everything else. Not that I blame these Coptics, apparently they have thousands of years of persecution and they jumped to a short-sighted conclusion."

Yesterday, the U.S. Copts Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group dedicated to raising awareness regarding the plight of the Copts, had posted a statement concerning the arrests on its Web site.

In part, it read: "Throughout our communications with the prosecutor, the FBI, and other officials, we have stressed law enforcement's need to explore all possible options potentially leading to the murderers. As we have demonstrated through public statements and media appearances, we have exercised caution in proscribing a religious motive to the murders."

But at a Feb. 15 press conference in Washington, D.C., the president of that organization, Michael Meunier, said the method of the murders was similar to a means of killing described in the Koran. Meunier also discounted robbery, as well as a vendetta with its roots in Egypt, as motives for the killings. The following day, Meunier issued a statement decrying the slaying of the Armanious family "by Muslim extremists " and calling the family "modern-day martyrs in Islamic fundamentalists' war on Christianity."

Messages left on the group's answering machine yesterday were not returned.

Monir Dawoud, acting president of the American Coptic Association, who had once called on investigators to refer the murders to the hate crimes unit of the FBI, said Friday that his public accusations after the killings had been meant only against "Muslim terrorists" and not against "99.9 percent of Muslims."

"As a Christian, I'm ready to apologize to anybody who thinks his feelings were hurt by our words or our actions," he said.

Dawoud, like many other Copts interviewed since the arrests, said they do not believe that the two men arrested last week were the only killers. Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said on Friday that authorities are still investigating the case and looking to talk to other people.

Others said the arrests did not put them completely at ease.

"We feel better now, but it's a mixed feeling," said Jack Jhaly, talking with friends at the El Saria Cafe, a popular Jersey City hangout for Copts. "It could calm the Coptic people down, but everybody's going to wait (for the trial)."

Bishop David, the spiritual leader for the Copts in most of North America, has publicly cautioned against leaping to conclusions about the case before evidence came in, but he said the detailed information made public after the arrests seems less than complete.

"What we asked for was two things: the whole truth and justice," said Bishop David, who like other Coptic bishops uses just one name. "If it is true that this is the whole truth, then everyone is ready to accept it. This will give a lot of peace to our people.

"But a lot of things are not clear yet . It's very difficult to believe that four people were killed just to steal a card to take some money out of an ATM machine. A lot of things need to be explained in more detail."

Newhouse News Service staff writer Jeff Diamant contributed to this report.



Cold-blooded killer or 'dependable' guy?

Cops say McDonald murdered, then went on with life upstairs good worker, boss says

Monday, March 07, 2005

By Brian Donohue

Newhouse News Service

Edward McDonald, 25, was questioned by investigators on Jan. 14, the morning police found his landlord, his wife and their two daughters stabbed to death in their Jersey City Heights home.

After the interview, McDonald walked out of the prosecutor's office - and coolly past the brother of the slain woman, Ayman Garas, who was entering the building to meet with detectives.

On Friday, McDonald and Hamilton Sanchez, 30, pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder in the slayings of Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife Amal Garas, 37, and their daughters, Sylvia, 16, and Monica, 9.

On Jan. 11, the night police say the slayings took place, McDonald, along with his wife and two young daughters, slept in the apartment directly upstairs from the rooms where the four bodies were left after the stabbings, investigators said. They remained in the Oakland Avenue apartment until the morning of Jan. 14, when police discovered the bodies and ordered McDonald and his family to leave, investigators said.

After his release from prison in April 2004, McDonald and his family - his pregnant wife and her daughter from a previous relationship - moved into his grandmother's house in the Jersey City Heights. About two months before the slayings, McDonald and his family moved into an apartment in the Armanious's home. Just before Christmas, his wife gave birth to a son.

His mother, Jenny Orbin - who worked for more than 20 years as a crossing guard at the school that the youngest Armanious girl attended - convinced a friend, Jim Walsh, to hire him as a laborer, paving parking lots in Jersey City.

For seven weeks after the slayings and the interview with investigators, McDonald remained in Jersey City, dutifully showing up at work. His boss described him as a "very dependable" worker.

"If I needed him to work early, he worked early. If I needed him to stay late, he stayed late," Walsh said.

"I'd take him back in a heartbeat, without a question," he said. "I wouldn't give it a second thought.

"I hope he ain't being done dirty because of his past," he added.

Walsh said that McDonald told him, he had been "freaked out" that the killings had occurred downstairs from his apartment, especially when initial reports said the crime might have been a case of mistaken identity.

"He was paranoid about that," said Walsh, adding that McDonald thought he and his family could have been the targets.

Newhouse News Service staff writers Russell Ben-Ali, Jeff Diamant and Joe Malinconico contributed to this report.



Both Copts and Muslims express relief, look for healing
by Maria Zingaro Conte
Source: The Jersey Journal

As word spread yesterday that the two men allegedly responsible for the January slaying of a Coptic Christian family in Jersey City had been taken into custody and arraigned, reactions in the Coptic community ranged from shock to relief.

The arrests put an end to weeks of speculation that the brutal killings had been religiously motivated, fueled by a centuries-old rift between Coptic and Muslim Egyptians. The development brought some measure of relief to members of both religious groups.

"We are very relieved that the perpetrators are brought to justice and we hope that they will be severely punished," said Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association. "We continue to endorse good relations between Egyptian Muslim and Christian communities both in New Jersey and abroad."

Prosecutors allege that Edward McDonald and Hamilton Sanchez, both convicted drug dealers, robbed and then killed the four-member Armanious family and used their ATM card to withdraw about $3,000 from the family's bank accounts.

At the time of the murders, McDonald was a tenant in the Armanious' two-family house.

Meunier also expressed strong feelings at the crime.

"I'm shocked at the stupidity of the killers. The guy was an ex-convict. He lived upstairs. I'm also shocked at the manner (in which) he killed the family, apparently for a PIN number. How much money can you withdraw for a PIN number, $300 a day?

"To kill a whole family for that, the smarter person would think, 'Let me get caught for robbery rather than the killing of a whole family.'"

For others, a note of skepticism remained amid the relief.

"We all feel lighter today, like a weight has been lifted," said Dr. Monir Dawoud, acting president of the American Coptic Association, in a written statement.

"It would be a great day for all of us in Jersey City and for all Americans if it turns out to be true that the sole motive for this murder was robbery. So many of us came to America from countries where we were persecuted for the way we worshipped God.

"We pray that the evil of prejudice has not followed us here and that the Armanious family was not slaughtered because of their religious faith."

Family members and acquaintances, as well as some Coptic leaders had urged authorities to investigate the killings as a hate crime in the weeks since the bodies were discovered, bound and with stab wounds in their Oakland Avenue home, on Jan. 14.

Sarah Issa, the director of media relations for the Council on American Islamic Relations-New Jersey, said there were important lessons to be learned from the outcome of the case.

"It was really a disappointment and a pity that we didn't wait and give a period of time and let the authorities first come to conclusions before we first jumped to speculations and accusations," she said.

"But even though the Islamic community was blamed, it's still understood that the tragedy is kind of what prompted this, and that is really a lesson for all of us to try to reach some common sense and wait for the authorities to come to the bottom of it before we start accusing others."

She also expressed optimism that relations between the two religious groups in Jersey City can be repaired and said her organization plans to work to bring the Egyptian community in Jersey City back together.

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