Copt out?

Kathy Shaidle yesterday passed along a deeply disturbing story from the New York Post. Four Coptic Christians were slashed to death in their New Jersey home. One initial motive, fingered by the Post, was Islamic rage. As the Post put it:

[Hossam] Armanious, an Egyptian Christian, was well known for expressing his Coptic beliefs and engaging in fiery back-and-forth with Muslims on the Web site paltalk.com.

He "had the reputation for being one of the most outspoken Egyptian Christians," said the source, who had close ties to the family.

The source, who had knowledge of the investigation, refused to specify the anti-Muslim statement. But he said cops told him they were looking into the exchanges as a possible motive.

The married father of two had recently been threatened by Muslim members of the Web site, said a fellow Copt and store clerk who uses the chat room.

"You'd better stop this bull---- or we are going to track you down like a chicken and kill you," was the threat, said the clerk, who was online at the time and saw the exchange.

And voila! the guy's family ends up on the wrong end of a couple of carving knives. Sylvia, Armanious' would-have-been-16-year-old daughter, took "the most savage punishment," according to the Post. The assailant "not only slit Sylvia's throat, but also sliced a huge gash in her chest and stabbed her in the wrist, where she had a tattoo of a Coptic cross."

And that's one side of the story. The local police are playing down the religion angle as much as possible, arguing that it was instead a robbery gone horribly wrong. According to the Jersey Journal, the four people were bound and their deaths were the result of a loss of blood from "puncture wounds to their heads, necks, and bodies, not from slit throats as was previously reported."

Regarding speculation that this family of Copts was killed for their vocal religious beliefs, the local prosecutor said, "A lot of things are being reported (and) I think we have to be circumspect before assuming any motive in this case." In the New York Times, a special agent of the FBI warned that his agency's involvement in the investigation "does not mean that a hate crime took place."

Some official Muslim groups have claimed that, whatever the identity of the killers, they were not acting with the moral sanction of Islam.

At the risk of pouring gasoline on a raging fire here, the evidence that has been made available to the public makes it sound very much like law enforcement, in full-spin mode, wants to sweep this one under the rug.

"Slit throats" vs. "puncture wounds to their necks"? Come on! Spokesmen for the local police have said that, contrary to the Post report, there wasn't a lot of money or jewelry at the Armanious residence, but it is well within the realm of the possible that a wannabe jihadi would have removed these things in an attempt to throw the cops off his trail.

I should add that I abominate the very idea of hate crimes, where somehow weighing motives becomes more important than condemning actions. What could be more hateful than a murder? Why should we tack ten years on to someone's sentence because he used a racial epithet while he was decapitating someone, or because he calls the victim a dirty infidel?

However, if we tweaked the situation a bit -- say Egyptian Muslim immigrants were murdered and rabid Presbyterians were suspects -- it's hard to imagine law enforcement would be campaigning so vigorously against drawing conclusions, or that the press would by and large go along with that suggestion.

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