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Wakeley church stabbing: National security experts warn of copycat attacks after live-streaming

Headshot of Remy Varga
Remy Varga
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Forensic Police at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley in the days after the attack.
Forensic Police at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley in the days after the attack. Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

National security experts are warning of potential copycat terror attacks after the live-streamed stabbing at a church in Sydney’s west.

It comes as NSW Police prepare to arrest possibly hundreds of rioters who clashed with officers outside the Assyrian orthodox Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley on Monday night after the attack.

A 16-year-old boy has been arrested over the stabbing of Bishop Mari Mari Emmanuel, which has been declared an act of terror by authorities.

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In February, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation chief Mike Burgess said that Sunni Islamic violent extremism posed the “greatest religiously motivated threat in Australia”.

And on Wednesday, former senior defence official Michael Shoebridge told The Nightly the warning that Islamic terrorism remained the biggest national security threat had been proven correct.

“You can see there’s growing anger and division in Australian society and it’s being licensed by walking past the pretty violent words we hear in the Muslim community in Australia that seem to think their words have no consequence, but their words can drive young Australians to action as we have just allegedly seen,” said Mr Shoebridge, who is the founder of Strategic Analysis Australia.

He also said the heads of ASIO and Australian Secret Intelligence Service should be returned to Cabinet’s national security committee of Cabinet after the Albanese Government removed them last month.

Monday night’s attack was live-streamed to tens of thousands of people around the world across multiple social media platforms.

Vision of the attack shows someone in a black hoodie approaching the pulpit before drawing a knife above his head and repeatedly stabbing Bishop Emmanuel in the head and body.

John Coyne, head of Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said ASIO and the intelligence community had for years held concerns over the online radicalisation of young people.

He said terrorism was an enduring problem in Australia and it was possible there could be further attacks given the terror threat level was at “possible”.

“Young people are being radicalised through a range of ideologies,” Dr Coyne said.

“I think also the October 7 attacks (in Israel) created fissures in some of our social cohesion and social cohesion in general in Australia.

“Be it white supremacists, incels or violent misogynists.”

It has emerged that community leaders were reportedly worried about the teenage alleged attacker’s “extreme religious views” before the stabbing of Bishop Emmanuel.

Clearly there are fissures and challenges for social cohesion in Australia, and that is a body of work that looms large here.

An audio message shared to WhatsApp groups in the hours after the attack of a man who claimed to have prayed with the teen earlier in the day appears to back up that concern.

The man reportedly says: “Sadly, sadly, sadly, that kid we prayed Dhuhr (prayer) with today. These kids have been poisoned by a monster ... this kid has been poisoned.”

Dr Coyne said the riot after the attack — during which people hurled projectiles including bricks and fence poles at police officers and paramedics — was also concerning.

“This is hardly Australian behaviour and it does show some social cohesion challenges, any logical person would say attacking police in those circumstances is hardly a rational act,” he said.

Bishop Mari was attacked during a sermon that was being live-streamed.
Bishop Mari was attacked during a sermon that was being live-streamed. Credit: Unknown/X formerly Twitter

“Clearly there are fissures and challenges for social cohesion in Australia, and that is a body of work that looms large here.”

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said the family of the 16-year-old had moved from their family home due to fear of reprisal attacks.

Ms Webb added that police could start arresting rioters as early as Wednesday, with investigators working to identify people caught on CCTV and police bodycam footage.

“When I was at the police station yesterday they had some clear indications of who some of those individuals were and they can expect a knock at the door,” she said.

Ms Webb said investigators believed there were people not associated with Christ The Good Shepherd Church who turned up on Monday night.

The Good Shepherd Church on Thursday said a fake Facebook account purporting to belong to Rabbi Emmanuel had been sending friend requests on the social media platform.

“Please note that this is not an official Church account nor does the Bishop himself operate a Facebook account or profile,” the church said in a statement.

“We suspect these are overseas scammers of sorts, possibly an AI-bot operating to stir dissension.”

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