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Family denounces hate-crime rumors in multiple N.J. slayings

Kathryn Fiegen

The relatives of a slain Jersey City, N.J., family came together at a press conference to call for an end to the rumors surrounding the deaths of their sister, brother-in-law and two children.

Feb 18, 2005 (AXcess News) Washington - The relatives of a slain Jersey City, N.J., family came together at a press conference to call for an end to the rumors surrounding the deaths of their sister, brother-in-law and two children.

On Jan. 14, the bodies of Egyptian immigrants Amal Armanious, 37; her husband, Hossam Armanious, 47; and their daughters, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were found bound and gagged in their home. Each had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck and head.

The family disputed press reports that the crime was Muslim retribution for Hossam Armanious' outspoken Christian beliefs and urged investigators to solve the crime.

But human rights and religious freedom groups wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, saying the murders "may have been a hate crime stemming from a religious dispute" and urging him to take "a strong leadership role" in the investigation.

The family members were active in their Coptic Christian church, and Hossam Armanious participated in the Internet chat room PalTalk - known for its heated religious debates between Christians and Muslims, the family said.

Michael Meunier, a spokesman for the family and the U.S. Copts Association, said the family doesn't want to spark a fight by saying the crime was committed by someone from the Muslim community, but would like answers and action from law enforcement officials.

"Today, we make clear that we seek only justice for our slain family members and make no accusations as to who committed this crime or why it was carried out in such a vengeful and premeditated manner," said Meunier, reading a statement from the family.

Emil Garas, Amal Armanious' uncle, said he doesn't want to create animosity in the Islamic community and that he believes his relatives wouldn't have wanted that either.

"He could have had Muslim friends," he said of Hossam Armanious. "We don't want to turn this into a Muslim-Christian feud."

Guy Gregory, Hudson County first assistant prosecutor, said that because the investigation is ongoing, he could say little. However, Gregory said the facts so far do not support rumors that the murders were religion-based.

"There is nothing to indicate yet that this is a hate crime," he said.

The Garas family members said they don't believe robbery led to the murders.

"The manner they were killed made people think it was not just a robbery," Meunier said.

He said the family lived modestly, with no large sums of cash in the home. A police report found that Hossam Armanious' wallet had been rifled, but Amal Armanious' jewelry and family possessions seemed untouched.

Gregory said the amount of money taken from the wallet is unknown, and robbery hasn't been discounted as a motive.

"His wallet had been gone through," he said. "We can't talk about the details of the scene, and we can't speculate about what we know."

Source: Scripps Howard Foundation

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