MARCH 1 2005
Copts fear Christian conversion
sparked unsolved murders
Posted: March 1, 2005
1:00 a.m. Eastern
By Maria Sliwa
© 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
Evangelical Christians in the United
States have reason to keep an eye on the murder
investigation of four Coptic Christians slain last month in New Jersey. Family members who viewed the
bodies say they suspect the brutal slayings were a warning not to proselytize
to Muslims. They say that the body of Sylvia Armanious
was clearly the most viciously attacked in the killings, causing them to wonder
if it was because she was too vocal in sharing her faith.
"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 this
month, when the relatives of the victims went to Washington, D.C.,
to meet with lawmakers and hold a press conference on their concerns about the
"We aren't looking for trouble, we are just looking
for the facts," Emil Garas, an uncle of one of
the victims, said.
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 quite common for the denomination of the Evangelical
Presbyterian Church Sylvia attended in Jersey
City. Congregants at this church call themselves
A number of Sylvia's friends, who attend the Mid East
Evangelical church, say a problem ensued after Sylvia befriended the Muslim
daughter of a Halal butcher she encouraged to convert
to Christianity. They say that they fear Sylvia's Christian influence on this
girl may have provoked the harsh retribution that followed.
Fellow churchgoers say they are worried that the Jersey City murders will encourage an increase in the
persecution of converts (and those who convert them) in the U.S., as is the case in Egypt.
According to Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization
that monitors the global spread of democracy, Coptic Christians in Egypt live in
fear and subjugation. "While Egypt has no explicit law against
apostasy, the influence of sharia law on the civil
code is creating a de facto law." Each year thousands of Copts
convert to Islam, many under pressure, and Christians have an emigration rate
three to four times that of Muslims. Coptic church
sources estimate that over a million Copts have left Egypt in the past 30 years.
But Hamed el Shenawany,
the president of the Al Huda Islamic Center in Jersey City, says that though it is possible that a
"crazy fanatic" could have sought retribution for this kind of thing,
this is not the case with most Muslims in the United States. "America is the
land of the free and Muslims are free to convert to any religion they
want," el Shenawany says.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior
terrorism analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Investigative Project, a
terrorism research center, disagrees. "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. Although obtaining
information on these threats can be difficult, because they're generally
under-reported, without digging too deeply I can think of at least 10 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.
Mohamed Saleh (who changed his
name for this article for fear of retribution) is a former Muslim from Egypt who 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, was one of the
targeted Christians whose photo and contact information were posted on another
radical Islamic website, Barsomyat.com, for 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. Mohamed says, though sometimes afraid, he is prepared to
die for his faith.
Last Tuesday, New Jersey Hudson County Prosecutor Edward
DeFazio said that though no suspects have been identified in the murders, all
leads are being pursued.
According to information obtained by Robert Spencer, the
director of Jihad Watch, from sources close to the murders, the Halal butcher had planned the killing for months and
several of his accomplices are still in the country. Spencer says police are
investigating these allegations.
Though Family members live in inconsolable grief, they say
they 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."
Maria Sliwa is a freelance
journalist based in New Jersey
and the founder and publisher of Freedom Now News.
2005 WorldNetDaily.com, Inc.
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