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Slain Egyptian Was a Fixture in San Gabriel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He was the embodiment of tolerance, the neighborhood’s booming laugh and elbow-in-the-ribs, a generous man whose warm greetings came in English, Spanish and Arabic.

With a glint of mischief in his eyes, Adel Karas presided for 20 years over the counter of his cluttered little corner store in San Gabriel.

The big silver-haired Egyptian sold Turkish pipes beside the beach balls, African drums over the Budweiser, teakettles next to the tortillas.

“Por que ha venido, flaco?” he’d always ask one rail-thin Mexican customer, smiling wide. “Why have you come, skinny?” The customer loved the endearing jibe.

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Karas was the longtime fixture that few Southern California neighborhoods have. And on Saturday afternoon, the 48-year-old Christian father of three was shot dead in his store.

Sheriff’s detectives say it was an attempted robbery. But his family and friends say no money was taken and that he never experienced a violent incident before.

“It’s a hate crime, no doubt,” said Nabil, a longtime friend who didn’t want to give his last name. “He was such a good Christian, he never missed Mass, he was such a great person. This should not have happened to him.”

The FBI opened an investigation on Monday into the possibility that Karas was murdered as a result of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The launch of a probe indicates there is simply a possibility a hate crime occurred, authorities said.

“The threshold to open one of these civil rights cases is very low,” said Laura Bosley, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles. “Nationwide, they’ve opened dozens of cases since Tuesday’s attack.”

Sheriff’s detectives did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

If Karas was targeted for his perceived religion or ethnicity, a cruel absurdity lies in the ignorance of the act: He was a Coptic Christian who had fled Egypt more than 20 years ago because of persecution by the Muslim majority.

In Cairo, he was an agricultural engineer. He left, as did much of his large family over the years, because Coptics were being killed, their churches vandalized, their careers stunted. Egyptian law prevented Coptics from taking certain government posts.

First in England and then in the San Gabriel Valley, many in his family became physicians. His wife, Randa, just passed her board certification to become an anesthesiologist, for which Adel was planning to throw a barbecue at their new home in Arcadia.

“He loved her so dearly,” said Karas’ older sister, Eva Wasef. “He’d say, ‘Look Eva, doesn’t Randa look beautiful today?’ ”

Karas worked 12 hours a day, six days a week at his store, the International Store, on Las Tunas Drive. He left his old Mercedes parked out front every day, unlocked. He just wasn’t suspicious, friends said, and he befriended everyone.

“He had so many Muslim friends,” said Wasef. “There is a mosque near his store, and after Friday prayers all the Muslims went to the store and laughed with him and bought things.”

The head of the Islamic Center in Los Angeles visited the family Monday as carnations and roses, notes and votive candles amassed on the sidewalk in front of his store.

“Dear Adel,” read one note taped to the door. “May hatred perish as you rest in peace.” Karas’ funeral will be held at noon today at St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Los Angeles.

“He was the kind of guy who would just smile and his whole face would show it,” said Ali Sarraf, 34, a neighbor of Persian and Mexican descent who shared an interest in Arabic music with Karas. “He was such a good man.”


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