The gruesome murder of a Coptic Egyptian family in New Jersey last month has fueled a whirlwind of accusations, with some hawkish commentators blaming Islamist radicals and some locals seeing the Egyptian government’s hand.
Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife and their two daughters were found bound and gagged at their home in Jersey City on January 14 with their throats slit and with several stab wounds.
Law enforcement authorities say they have found no evidence that religion motivated the killings and that they are considering robbery or a vendetta as a more likely cause. The results of the autopsy are expected to be released March 14.
Rafique Iscandar, a close friend of the Armanious family and the head of a local organization called the American Coptic Union, said he believed the Egyptian authorities were the likely culprits in an effort to expand abroad their repression against Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population.
While he did not offer evidence to support his claims, he added that Egyptian diplomats had pressured local families to tone down such complaints.
Magdi Shaker, a spokesman for the Egyptian mission to the United Nations, denied any government involvement and said American authorities had ruled out any religious motives.
In addition, the Hudson County prosecutor is looking into assertions about a possible link between the murders and hate e-mails posted on an Islamic Web site. The allegations were made in an article published last week in The New York Sun by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an analyst with the Investigative Project, a group run by terrorist expert Steven Emerson.
Gartenstein-Ross contends that the Web site, Barsyomat.com, tracked Christian users of an online chat room called on the Web site www.PalTalk.com, where participants use instant messaging, voice messaging and Web cameras, posting information on their whereabouts and even pictures.
Armanious was reportedly a frequent PalTalk debater, under the user name “I love Jesus,” and allegedly received a death threat two months before the slayings from another PalTalk user, according to the Sun report.
The authorities are investigating the Web site, which was run by a Jordanian until its Minnesota-based hosting company shut it down last week.
PalTalk is a New York city-based company founded in 1998, and providing a whole range of Web-based communication tools.
The site allegedly posted pictures of Armanious and his wife, with a comment referring to them, respectively, as a “filthy dog” and his “filthy wife” who “got what they deserved for their actions in America,” according to the article.
Iscandar cited the death by hanging of another Copt in Bayonne, N.J., a couple of months ago as a possible indication of an anti-Copt campaign waged by Cairo.
He said the police department did not mention in its report the fact that the victims’ throats were slit; the report referred only to the stabs. He said that the assailants had tried to cut the crosses tattooed on the family’s wrists.
In addition, he brushed aside the hypothesis of a vendetta as implausible since Armanious was not politically involved now or before he came to the United States 10 years ago. As to the robbery theory, he said that although some money was stolen, gold and a ring worth $3,500 were found.
He said Armanious had been laid off six months ago from a job at a local Marriott hotel but continued to work as a handyman. His wife was working at a post office.
“They were just normal people living a normal life,” he said.