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updated 12/20/2010 10:48:55 AM ET 2010-12-20T15:48:55

An American tourist killed in a forest outside Jerusalem was involved in an evangelical ministry that promotes Christianity among Jews, it emerged Monday.

Kristine Luken, who was in her mid-40s, was stabbed to death Saturday while hiking with a friend. Israeli police had originally identified her as Christine Logan.

Luken was involved with a group called Church's Ministry among Jewish People, initially in the U.S., then in England, where she became a ministry staffer. The church is active in Israel.

On the CMJ American web site, Luken quoted inspirational poet Minnie Louise Haskins' words, "Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

A 2007 study tour in Israel, "Walking with Jesus in his Jewish world," brought Luken to the church, she wrote on the site.

Video: U.S. tourist killed near Jerusalem (on this page)

A U.K.-based co-worker of Luken, who asked not to be identified, told NBC News that she had just had lunch with Luken last week and said her death was a shock and a tragedy.

She said Luken "loved Israel and loved being in Israel" and it was "really awful for her to die there."

'We'll miss her'
David Pillegi, director of Christ Church in Jerusalem, who knew Luken, told the Virginia-based Christian Broadcasting Network that he and others at the church would "mourn with her family."

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"We love Kristine very much and we'll miss her," he told CBN. "Kristine was a woman who had a very infectious love for God.

"When you were around Kristine you couldn't help to love the Lord more," he added. "It's very simply our prayer for this great tragedy that, even though it was meant for evil, that God will use this in a redemptive way."

Luken and Kaye Susan Wilson, a naturalized Israeli from the U.K., became friends on a study tour to Poland earlier this year, the Rev. David Pileggi of CMJ's Christ Church in Jerusalem said Monday.

Luken, an avid hiker, and Wilson, a professional tour guide, decided to go hiking together in Israel during Luken's Christmas holiday, he said.

On Saturday, the two headed for the wooded hills. Wilson told Israeli reporters from her hospital bed Sunday that two Arab men approached her and Logan as they rested during a hike in the hills outside Jerusalem.

She said the men asked them for water, and then she and her friend walked away. Thinking the men had left, the women headed back to the main trail when suddenly they were attacked.

"It all happened so fast. They came and attacked us," Wilson, 46, told reporters.

Pretended to be dead
She said one of the men took out a knife that looked "like a bread knife with a serrated edge." Logan then "became hysterical" and the men began to stab them, Wilson said.

"It was clear that they came to kill," she added. "Who carries around a knife like that?"

At one point, Wilson said one of the assailants gently took a Star of David chain off her neck, "then turned me around and stabbed in the place where the Star of David had been."

Wilson said she pretended to be dead, even as she could hear her friend dying. She said she waited for two minutes, then made her way back to a parking lot several hundred yards away where she found help.

Hospital staff cut off the interview after about five minutes and refused to make her available for further comment.

Luken's body, hands bound and bearing multiple stab wounds, was discovered Sunday in the forest.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said authorities were treating the attack as politically motivated, while not ruling out that it could have been criminal. A major manhunt was underway.

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The forest is inside Israel but close to the border with the West Bank and the Palestinian villages of Husan and Wadi Fukin.

No suspects have been taken into custody. There was no claim of responsibility, which suggests that the assault, even if politically motivated, was likely the work of individuals and not a militant group.

Don Stanley of the church's head office in Israel said he would put out a statement on behalf of the Luken family later in the day.

He said the family did not want Luken's hometown disclosed.

The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.

Video: American tourist murdered in Israel

  1. Closed captioning of: American tourist murdered in Israel

    >>> police in israel are searching for the killers of an american tourist brutally stabbed to death near jerusalem. martin fletcher has the detail this is morning.

    >> reporter: a close friend described the murdered woman as a wonderful, caring and godly person. she went for a christmas vacation hike in the jerusalem woods this weekend with a friend. it was a lovely, warm afternoon until according to the survivor two men speaking arabic asked for a drink of water. she was an american, christine luken, 46 years old. police found her body hidden under a bush. her friend also bound and stabbed multiple times surviveded only by pretending to be dead. she told rescuers -- i thought something was wrong, she said, i warned my friend, the men may attack. they did with what looked like a bread knife. susan bill son said the men tore the star of david from around here neck and stabbed her where it hung on her chest. i played dead, but i heard my friend die. christine luken was an evalngel can christian. she was on vacation. police sealed off the area and launched a massive man hunt for her killers. they were suspicion, there was a political attack aimed at jews. but it didn't rule out a criminal motivation. israeli troops surrounded a nearby arab hospital and checked the emergency room in case one of the killers was hurt. doctors showed them the patients' list.

    >> they asked by their id.

    >> reporter: but no arrests so far and police won't say a word about their progress. no organization has claimed responsibility for the murder which suggests to security sources the attack was unplanned. they say two men may have seen an opportunity and taking it. bad stuff for the christmas holidays in israel.

    >> that's certainly a horrible story. martin fletcher , thank you. it's

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