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….
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.”
Let me be completely clear: I am not claiming that the information I have is necessarily accurate. It is a lead that should be followed. And in terms of the motive and the method of killing, it makes more sense of the case than any other theory. But that still doesn’t mean it is accurate.
But why the double talk? Why did DeFazio deny receiving names and numbers, when I gave them to his office a month ago, and then suddenly remember? Why was this information apparently discounted without a serious investigation? And why did DeFazio get so testy when questioned about it?
Maybe there is nothing behind this more than a prosecutor who is forgetful and bereft of social skills. But he keeps managing to raise more questions than he answers.