AP New JerseyWednesday, March 30, 2005

Muslim, Christian leaders to skip meeting aimed at calming tensions




Associated Press Writer


March 29, 2005, 5:12 PM EST


TRENTON, N.J. -- In an indication of how elusive harmony between Muslims and Christians has become following the murder of an Egyptian Christian family in Jersey City, leaders of both communities said they will skip a meeting with state officials aimed at calming tensions between the two sides.


Attorney General Peter Harvey said Tuesday that the state Division of Criminal Justice's Office of Bias Crimes and Community Relations had scheduled a meeting for Monday with leaders of both communities. A rift between Coptic Christians and Muslims arose following the murder of the Armanious family, Coptic Christians who were tied up and stabbed to death inside their home.


"We want to get the Coptic Christians and Muslims to sit down together and identify real areas of common interest and try to dispel rumors," Harvey told The Associated Press. "It's important to set up contacts and linkages so that if an incident does occur in the future they can talk to each other."


But Sohail Mohammed, the lawyer for the Totowa-based American Muslim Union, said the Muslim community wants to meet directly with Harvey, not a committee.


"We want to meet with the attorney general; what is so hard about that?" he said. "If he's not giving it the priority it deserves, then he's making a mistake. If he is not going to be there, this is not something that's going to be useful for us."


Likewise, Maged Riad, the United States spokesman for the Coptic Church and its leader, Pope Shenouda, said Coptic leaders won't be there either. Riad said the meeting was called on too short notice for him and other Coptic leaders to attend.


Authorities said Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife and two daughters were slain three days before their bodies were found Jan. 14.


Immediately after the bodies were discovered, friends of the family speculated that they might have been killed by Muslims.


Even after the arrests last month of two non-Muslim suspects in the killings, some Christians said they still believe religious hatred was the true motive behind the murders. Authorities said robbery was the motive.


Leaders of the Muslim community in northern New Jersey want Harvey to determine whether anti-Islam comments made by some Coptic Christians implicating Muslims should be prosecuted as bias crimes.


Harvey said the director of the bias committee reports directly to him, and is capable of bringing both sides closer together.


"It's not as if I bring any particular magic to the meeting," he said.


Harvey said he will try to attend the meeting, but said his participation in a massive counter-terrorism drill beginning Monday might makes that impossible.


"If I can stop by, I will," he said.


Edward McDonald, 25, who rented a second-floor apartment above the Armanious family, and an acquaintance, Hamilton Sanchez, 30, are charged with the murders, and are being held in protective custody on $10 million bail each.



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Copyright 2005, The Associated Press