Stabbing of Christian Bishop in Sydney Declared a ‘Terrorist’ Act

A senior police official said the incident satisfied the requirements of religiously motivated extremism.
Stabbing of Christian Bishop in Sydney Declared a ‘Terrorist’ Act
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)

Police in Australia declared the live-streamed alleged stabbing of a Christian church leader in Sydney “a terrorist incident.”

Orthodox Christian Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was conducting a live-streamed sermon at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, a western suburb, at about 7 p.m. on April 15 when a young man dressed in black approached him.

The attacker, later identified as a 16-year-old boy, pulled out a knife and struck the Assyrian religious leader multiple times in the head and the upper body as parishioners screamed and ran to stop the attack.

The teen also injured several others, according to police.

The victims were rushed to the hospital for treatment, with the bishop remaining in stable condition with no life-threatening injuries.

The event sparked a riot, with a crowd of hundreds from the local community gathering outside the church, chanting and throwing items at police, including bricks, concrete, and palings. Two officers are reported to have been injured, with one sustaining a broken jaw.

Video footage circulating online shows the teenage attacker speaking in Arabic before lunging at the victim, according to The Daily Telegraph, which translated his words as: “If he didn’t swear at my prophet I wouldn’t be here. If he didn’t involve himself in my religion I wouldn’t be here.”

The incident occurred just two days after Sydney was rocked by a mass stabbing spree at Westfield Bondi Junction in the city’s eastern suburbs. That attack resulted in the deaths of six individuals and injuries to several others.

Police Explain Why It Was Declared a ‘Terrorist’ Incident

New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Karen Webb said the attack was ideologically motivated and would be a major investigation.

“At 1.35 a.m. this morning, after consideration of all the material, I declared that it was a terrorist incident,” she said on April 16.

“Strike Force Petrina has been established to investigate that side of the events last night, and a referral has been made, and agreed to, by the Joint Counter Terrorism Investigation Team.”

The police commissioner will work with NSW Police, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and other Commonwealth agencies in the investigation.

“We believe at this stage he was acting alone however, as you can imagine, this is very early on so at this stage that is our belief,” she said.

Ms. Webb confirmed the teenager was not on any terror watch list, and explained why it was declared a terror incident.

“We believe there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religiously motivated extremism,” she said.

“And of course, the intimidation of the public through that person’s apps, by attending that church whilst it was being live streamed, intimidating not only the parishioners in attendance, but those parishioners who are watching online and subsequently those people that turned up to the church on the outside and the subsequent riot that happened.”

Police vehicle with a smashed windscreen is seen after police held back an angry mob following a stabbing at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley in Sydney, Australia on April 15, 2024. (AAP Image/Paul Braven)
Police vehicle with a smashed windscreen is seen after police held back an angry mob following a stabbing at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley in Sydney, Australia on April 15, 2024. (AAP Image/Paul Braven)

NSW Premier Speaks Out Against Vigilantism

NSW Premier Chris Minns said he was informed of the police commissioner’s judgment at 2 a.m. local time.

Mr. Minns said it was “a major and serious criminal investigation” and spoke against vigilantism, warning it could divert resources.

“It is crucial that New South Wales Police are able to devote their resources and intelligence, as well as officers, to the investigation of this crime,” he told reporters.

The premier also said he had spoken to major religious leaders in the multicultural Western Sydney region who were appealing for calm.

Rioters to be Investigated

Ms. Webb condemned the violent riot outside the church, saying it was “unacceptable.”

“We’ve had police injured and taken to hospital overnight. And we’ve had many, many police vehicles damaged—20 have been damaged, and 10 are unusable,” she said.

“Police attended the incident in Wakeley last night to assist that community in response to calls for assistance, and the crowd turned on police.”

The police commissioner said those involved in the riot can “expect a knock at the door.”

“It might not be today. It might not be tomorrow. But we’ll find you and we’ll come and arrest you. That is totally unacceptable.”

Local Muslim Group, Councillor Speak Out

Shortly after the incident, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Australia issued a statement expressing “profound sadness and shock regarding the brutal attack.”

The group’s national president, I. H. Kaiser, said they “unequivocally condemns tonight’s attack on Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel in the strongest possible terms.”

“We extend our deepest sympathy to all those injured in the attack and wish them a speedy and complete recovery.”

Local Cumberland City Councillor Steve Christou urged calm.

“I condemn this unprovoked and mindless attack in the most strongest form and pray for the Bishop’s wellbeing and speedy recovery,” he wrote on X.

“There is no excuse whatsoever to attack a man of faith and God in a place of worship whilst delivering a church service. This is an act of violence of the most horrific nature.”

Federal MP Worried About Division

Local Federal MP for Fowler Dai Le was concerned the terrorist declaration could sow further division in her community, which includes one of the country’s largest Middle-Eastern communities.

“Can you imagine what people will feel when they wake up to the news that our premier has declared that in this small community, there’s a terror event? It is very concerning for me,” she told the ABC.

“I hope they better have a very good reason for that because they’re not living in my multicultural and multi-faith communities.”

The police commissioner, however, said the incident had satisfied the requirements of religiously motivated extremism.

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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