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Australia: Teenager charged with terrorism in church attack

April 19, 2024

Australian police have charged a 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing a bishop and a priest with a terrorism offense. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment.

Police standing outside a church
The attack took place in the Assyrian Orthodox Christ The Good Shepherd Church in SydneyImage: Jaimi Joy/REUTERS

A 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing two clerics during a church service in the eastern Australian city of Sydney has been charged with committing a terrorist offense.

The boy, who is in hospital after treatment for injuries, spoke about the Prophet Muhammad having been insulted after he stabbed Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and the Reverend Isaac Royel at an Assyrian Orthodox service on Monday.

The charge of terrorism means police will gain more powers to investigate whether the suspect acted alone or as part of a wider network.

The boy's family has previously said he had perhaps displayed "anger management and behavioral issues" and a "short fuse" in the past but had shown no signs of being radicalized.

What did authorities say?

"Yesterday, investigators attended a medical facility to interview the alleged offender where he was charged with committing a terrorist act," said Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw at a press
conference Friday in Sydney.

Authorities said the attack was declared a terrorist act because of the teenager's suspected religious motivation and because he undertook a trip of some 90 minutes from his home to the church.

If the boy is convicted, the offense carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.

The boy's lawyer, Greg Scragg, said the teen has been involved in knife related offenses in the past and that he was about to see a psychiatrist.

Scragg said the boy had long displayed behaviors that indicated some kind of mental illness or intellectual disability. 

Search for rioters

Police meanwhile say they are continuing to hunt for as many as 50 people who took part in a riot following the attacks in the church.

Fifty-one police officers were injured in hours of rioting after a crowd of some 600 people gathered at the church, some calling on police to hand over the boy, who suffered severe hand injuries while being overpowered by parishioners.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday expressed dismay at those events.

"The response as well, I must say, as a Sydneysider, was very disappointing with police being attacked; they should be treated with respect at all times," Albanese told radio station 3AW.

"Our police do extraordinary work in order to keep us safe and they shouldn't have been subject to the attacks that happened on that evening. And there have been charges done because of that as well," he said.

Bishop's forgiveness

The bishop who was targeted in Monday's attack said in an audio statement released on Thursday that he was "doing fine, recovering very quickly."

He said he forgave his attacker and called for calm after the attack.

Monday's incident came on the heels of another stabbing attack in Sydney on Saturday in which a man killed six people in a busy shopping mall  before being shot dead by a police officer. 

Police have said that attack was not thought to be terrorism-related and that the suspect had a history of mental illness.

tj/rc (dpa, AP)