- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — A funeral for an Egyptian Christian couple and their two daughters slain last week devolved into a melee after the services yesterday, with mourners shoving and punching each other as many blamed Muslims for the killings.

Investigators are looking into suspicions that Hossam Armanious, 47, his 37-year-old wife, Amal Garas, and their daughters, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were slain by a Muslim angered over postings that the father wrote in an Internet chat room.

The family is part of the Coptic Orthodox Church, whose members make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Copts generally live in peace with Muslims, but violence has flared in Egypt recently, including protests last month that flared into stone-throwing and arrests.

The New Jersey family’s bodies were found bound and gagged Friday, their throats and heads stabbed repeatedly. No arrests have been made.

Authorities stressed that robbery remained a suspected motive because no cash or jewelry was found in the home. Prosecutor Guy Gregory said the father’s wallet was found empty.

Despite suspicions of robbery, the slayings have created enormous tensions between Muslims and Christians here. The acrimony became apparent as soon as four copper caskets holding the bodies were carried through the streets of New Jersey’s second-largest city to a church.

Protesters carrying anti-Muslim signs and shouting anti-Islam slogans prompted several scuffles with mourners, who rebuked the protesters for having no respect for the dead or the grieving relatives. One sign, above a photograph of the smiling family, read, “American Family Beheaded on American Soil. Welcome Bin Laden.” Another read, “Terrorists Reached Our Home.”

“Muslims as a group kill people,” said Ashaf Baul, a marcher at the head of the procession. “Nobody else slaughters people. If it was a robbery, why tie their hands and cut their heads?”

But others in the procession took offense at such talk.

“Get out. We don’t need any talk about September 11 or Muslims,” church official Amil Sarofiem told a man who was shouting anti-Muslim slogans.

Once the bodies were loaded into four black hearses to be taken to a cemetery, more clashes erupted in the street outside the church, including one in which about 35 people shoved each other and traded punches. Police pushed several against cars to separate them from the fray as the fight spilled into a parking garage.

Inside the church, Ferial Karas, Mrs. Garas’ sister-in-law, screamed as the caskets came into view. She jumped out of her seat in the first row of portable chairs and raced toward one of the coffins, flinging herself on it and sobbing.

One man inside the church began screaming, “Muslim is the killer. Muslim is the killer.” He was dragged from the church by five police officers who hustled him into an unmarked police car and quickly drove off.

Ahmed Sheded, president of the Islamic Center of Jersey City who attended the ceremony, denounced the slayings.

“A real Muslim can’t do that. Any religious person who believes in God cannot do this, even to an animal,” he said.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest communities in Christendom. According to tradition, it was founded in the first century by St. Mark, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus.

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