Family of Accused Teen Flee Home After Church Stabbing

The teenager’s family have moved out of their home following intense media interest and threats of reprisal attacks on Islamic religious centres.
Family of Accused Teen Flee Home After Church Stabbing
A general view of signage is seen at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley in Sydney, Australia on April 16, 2024. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

A teenager arrested over a stabbing at a western Sydney church remains in hospital as police bolster resources in the area amid simmering tensions over the allegedly religiously motivated attack.

The stabbing at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley put Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and a priest in hospital after a knife-wielding attacker struck during a live-streamed sermon.

It has been declared an act of terrorism, however, the alleged attacker—a 16-year-old with a history of knife-related crime—is yet to be charged.

He is under police guard in hospital and likely to remain there for some days, NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said.

The incident met the criteria to be declared an act of terrorism, which granted police enhanced powers, but it remained to be seen if the teen would be charged with terrorism offences, she said.

The teenager’s family have moved out of their home following intense media interest and threats of reprisal attacks on Islamic religious centres after the stabbing at the Assyrian Christian church.

Lebanese Muslim Association secretary Gamel Kheir said the boy’s father was distraught and he saw no warning signs in the lead-up to the stabbing.

“[The father] was distraught ... he would not go home, he was too scared to go home,” Mr. Kheir said.

“Did he see the signs? He said no.

“All he saw was a troublesome teenager who wasn’t listening to his father.”

But the community will “not let division into our hearts”.

“We’re all suffering, we’re all feeling the pain ... our communities are on edge as it is, the last thing we needed was this,” Mr. Kheir said.

He also called for the creation of a safe space where potentially troubled young people in the community could be mentored and monitored so that they did not develop radical views.

“We’re not denying that we have a problem ... we’re not going to bury our heads in the sand either,” he said.

Ms. Webb also called for community cohesion, describing the events at the church as “one person acting alone and not about one community versus another”.

The stabbing triggered a riot outside the church, as some worshippers tried to gain access to the attacker, who was being held inside the place of worship at the time.

The ensuing chaos left 47 police officers injured and dozens of vehicles vandalised, while several paramedics were forced to shelter in the church.

“We believe that people not associated with the church have turned up as an excuse and become a riot that involved police,” Ms. Webb said.

Footage from CCTV, police bodycams and helicopters, as well as DNA testing of vehicles, was being used to identify those responsible.

On Wednesday evening (April 17) police confirmed they made their first arrest, of a 19-year-old Doonside man, over the public order incident.

Premier Chris Minns said the police presence will be bolstered across western Sydney and around places of worship for days as “combustible” conditions persist.

Federal officials met for another meeting of the National Security Committee on Wednesday afternoon (April 17) to assess the alleged terror act.

“Violent extremism has no place in this country,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.

Footage of the attack and subsequent riots was widely shared on social media.

Threats have been made against Lakemba Mosque, one of Australia’s largest Muslim places of worship, following the church attack.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils also condemned the stabbing as an atrocious act.

“Such an act of brutality stands in stark opposition to our cherished values of peace, empathy, and reciprocal respect,” it said in a statement urging community members to help with the police investigation.

Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.
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