An Egyptian Christian father, Hossam Armanious, his wife and two daughters were found knifed to death in their home on 14th January 2005. Police are investigating several theories, but religious tensions have been suggested as a potential motive. Armanious had been threatened during an internet chat-room session, following his critical comments on Islam.
Hossam Armanious (47), his wife Amal Garas (36), and their daughters Sylvia (15) and Monica (8) were found in their house in Jersey City, bound and gagged with their throats slit and knife wounds to their heads and bodies. While police are suggesting a robbery as the possible motive, the style of killing has made friends and relatives see a link with Islamic teaching on killing unbelievers.
Armanious and his family moved from Luxor, Upper Egypt to the USA in late 1990s to escape the growing anti-Christian violence in Upper Egypt. Such violence has seen many Christians killed and much Christian property destroyed in recent years.
After settling in New Jersey the family began making a new life for themselves. However, as a devout Christian, Armanious was outspoken about his faith, and continued to publicise the persecution of Christians in Egypt that had caused them to flee. He was known to have frequent vigorous debates on religion, including criticising Islam, in internet chat rooms. Two months ago he received the threat that if he didn't stop these comments 'we are going to track you down like a chicken and kill you'. A parishioner of St George and St Shenouda, the Coptic Orthodox church they attended, said, 'They are trying to make us afraid, make us keep our mouth shut.' Armanious' refusal to keep quiet about Christian persecution under Islam may finally have caused the fatal stabbings.
Relatives of the family grew worried when they had not heard from them for several days. The extended family had been planning to gather together on 15th January to celebrate Sylvia's 16th birthday. Early on the morning of 14th January police broke into the family home and found all four in separate rooms. Autopsies have concluded that they bled to death from their multiple wounds.
Sylvia, who had been known amongst her friends as 'very religious and very opinionated', seemed to family members to have taken more savage wounds than the others. She had a large gash across her chest and also stab wounds on her wrist. Though the slash on her wrist was near her tattoo of the Coptic cross, which all the family had, police have stated that it looks more like a defensive wound than an attempt to cut the tattoo.
Police officials and Coptic church leaders are attempting to downplay the religious link, asking people not to jump to conclusions. A break-in just a few months earlier had caused Armanious to increase security at the home, and as there were no signs of a forced entry police believe the family may have known their attacker. They have also reported that there was no jewellery or money in the house, with Mr Armanious's wallet emptied and pockets turned out, leading them to the possibility of robbery as a motive.
However, family members who were permitted to enter the house to collect important papers have said that all the jewellery was there. These conflicting reports have added fuel to the relatives' outrage and some in the local Egyptian Christian community are calling for revenge. A deacon at their church has said that he is worried there may be a ripple effect following the murders, with both anger and fear growing. At the funeral several people carried placards saying 'Islam is not a religion.' The procession later descended into chaos as mourners started jumping on cars and threatening violence to a Muslim cleric who had attended.
These tragic deaths seem as if they may be part of a growing trend by Islamic militants to kill often by slitting the throat those whom they see as a threat, including those who address the issue of persecution of non-Muslims within the Islamic tradition.
The fear under which the family had lived is poignantly illustrated in a poem which Sylvia had written:
'No more tears for me to cry. No more days where I have to lie. No more sadness to darken my day. No more rain to fog my daydreams. No more pain in my life. No more fear of getting killed with life's knife.'