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Australia: 16-year-old arrested over Sydney church stabbing

April 16, 2024

Several people were injured, including a controversial bishop, after being stabbed in a church in western Sydney. Police are treating the incident as an act of terror.

Police work at the scene following a stabbing at the church in the suburb of Wakeley in Sydney
At least four people were injured in a stabbing at the Christ The Good Shepherd ChurchImage: Paul Braven/AAP/REUTERS

A 16-year-old boy has been arrested after at least four people, including a prominent and controversial bishop, were injured in a stabbing at a church in Sydney on Monday.

Police said they were treating the attack as a terror incident.

"We believe there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religious motivated extremism," New South Wales state Police Commissioner Karen Webb said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"After consideration of all the material, I declared that it was a terrorist incident." 

A 50-year-old man was taken to hospital in a serious condition while three others were treated at the scene for "non life-threatening injuries," according to the New South Wales state ambulance service.

What do we know about the stabbing?

The stabbing took place during a service at the Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakely, 30 km (18 miles) west of Sydney's central business district.

The congregation belongs to the Assyrian Church of the East traditionally based in parts of the Middle East and southern India.

A video on social media shows a man approaching Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at the altar of the church and appearing to stab him repeatedly.

A separate eyewitness video, taken in the aftermath of the incident and verified by the Reuters news agency, shows the man being pinned to the ground by several others, his face obscured.

A voice can reportedly be heard saying in Arabic: "If they didn't insult my prophet, I wouldn't have come here. If he didn't involve himself in my religion, I would not have come here."

Police say the suspect is cooperating, but that he had to be held inside the church by officers to protect him from vengeful members of the congregation.

"There was so much anger because the bishop is loved by them, he’s loved by myself as well," a local resident who gave her name as Canny told Reuters.

"He preaches about the Lord and we love the Lord," she said.

Outside the church, angry worshippers reportedly threw stones at police, injuring two officers, who responded with tear gas.

"A large police response is underway and the public is urged to avoid the area," police said.

Chris Minns, the Premier of the state of New South Wales of which Sydney is the capital, described the scenes as "disturbing" and urged the community to "stick together in the face of adversity."

Controversial cleric

Born in Iraq to a devout Christian family, Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel is a prominent leader of an ultra-conservative sect of the Assyrian Church of the East.

He attracted a global following during the COVID-19 pandemic for his firey sermons in which he described lockdowns as "mass slavery."

An opponent of LGBTQ+ rights, he has also claimed that the United Nations were founded by Satan and that the election of US President Joe Biden in 2020 was "rigged by secret societies."

The attack comes just days after a 40-year-old-man stabbed to death six people and injured 12 at a shopping center in Bondi Junction in eastern Sydney.

There is no indication the two events are linked.

sdi/rm (AFP, Reuters, AP)