Published January 17, 2005
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – A funeral procession for two parents and their two daughters found brutally slain in their home last week drew hundreds of mourners Monday and some in the crowd blamed the deaths on simmering religious tensions in the family's native Egypt.
Services for 47-year-old Hossam Armanious (search), his 37-year-old wife, Amal Garas, and their two daughters were being held at the St. George & St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church, a Christian congregation where the family was active.
As the procession of about 300 people made its way on foot through city streets to the church, Iman Garas, sister of the slain mother, ran up and pounded on each of the four caskets, screaming, "Oh my God. Oh my God. They've left me all alone."
The family immigrated to the United States in 1997 from Egypt, where Coptic Christians generally live in peace with Muslims. But tensions between the religions there have flared and become violent in recent years.
After revelations over the weekend that Hossam Armanious was active on an Internet chat site devoted to Coptic Christianity (search), Monir Dowoud, president of the American Coptic Association (search), told 200 people outside the family's church on Sunday that "Muslim terrorists" were responsible.
Local authorities downplayed the religious link and the regional head of the Coptic church cautioned against a rush to judgment. But friends of the slain family said Hossam Armanious received death threats two months ago after writing what were perceived as insults to Islam.
During the processional Monday, mourners held placards and pushed and shoved. Some shouted anti-Muslim slogans. One man ran alongside the procession screaming, "Islam is not a religion. Islam is not a religion."
Authorities had not announced any arrests in the slayings as of Monday morning; a call to the prosecutor's office later in the morning was not returned.
Police have said that there were no signs of forced entry at the home, where the four bodies were found bound and gagged early Friday. Authorities said robbery remained a possible motive because no cash or jewelry were found in the home. Guy Gregory, first assistant Hudson County prosecutor, said the wallet of Hossam Armanious was found empty.
Officials and relatives have said that the family reported a burglary last year during which jewelry was stolen.
Autopsies showed the victims bled to death from puncture wounds to their heads, necks and bodies.
Over the weekend, relatives in Egypt gathered to mourn the family, which had immigrated to the United States in 1997.
In a funeral tent raised in downtown Luxor, Egypt, on Sunday, Armanious' elder brother Talaat said he was bewildered by the killings.
"Why would anyone do that to him?" Talaat Armanious said. "We want revenge. We want an extensive investigation to find out what really happened."
Copts generally live in peace with Muslims, but it is a sometimes uneasy relationship in which sectarian tensions can erupt. In 2000, the deadliest Christian-Muslim clashes in years killed 23 people, all but two of them Copts, touched off by an argument between a Coptic merchant and a Muslim shopper, also in southern Egypt.
Last month, thousands of angry Copts protested for days at a Cairo cathedral when rumors circulated that a Coptic Christian woman had been forced to convert to Islam. Days of protests and stone-throwing at the cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo, left two dozen police injured and 34 Copts detained.
In 2002, brawls broke out in a southern Egyptian village after an argument over whether a Coptic church's bells tolled too loudly. During an Islamic insurrection in Egypt in the early 1990s, Copts were occasionally attacked by Muslim militants.