Wakeley church terror: Calls for calm amid fears of reprisals over stabbing

Remy Varga, Georgina Noack
The Nightly
5 Min Read
There have been calls for calm after a 16-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a bishop during an evening sermon.
There have been calls for calm after a 16-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a bishop during an evening sermon. Credit: Supplied

A terror attack at a church in Sydney’s west that triggered a riot has further ignited tensions in a city already reeling from the death of six people in Bondi at the weekend, with fears of further reprisal attacks and tit-for-tat violence.

There have been calls for calm after a 16-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a bishop during an evening sermon at the Assyrian orthodox Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley on Monday night. A priest and several other churchgoers were also injured.

The boss of Australia’s spy agency, Mike Burgess, said it was believed the teen acted on his own but an investigation would look at all avenues.

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“It does appear to be religiously motivated but we continue our lines of investigation,” the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation said, adding the security threat level would be kept at “probable”.

The Prime Minister met with the national security committee met following the stabbing and he said there was no place for extremism in Australia.

“This is a disturbing incident, there is no place for violence in our community, there’s no place for violent extremism,” Anthony Albanese said.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel is recovering in hospital after the attack.
Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel is recovering in hospital after the attack. Credit: Unknown/X formerly Twitter

Reports emerged on Tuesday that the accused teenager, who cannot be identified due to his age, was on a good behaviour bond and appeared in court last November over charges of possessing a knife, stalking and intimidation, and property damage.

The terror attack on Assyrian Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was live-streamed around the world, as are many of his services, and was watched by tens of thousands of people.

Thousands of Bishop Emmanuel’s supporters descended on Wakeley after the incident and clashed with police, with two officers hospitalised and several injured.

Lakemba Mosque in western Sydney is bolstering security after receiving firebomb threats on Monday night as tensions flared and video of the teen speaking in Arabic about the Prophet Mohammed circulated.

A riot erupted outside the church after the stabbing.
A riot erupted outside the church after the stabbing. Credit: 7NEWS

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb confirmed authorities were treating it as a terror attack and said the stabbing had elements of religiously motivated extremism and was intended to intimidate the public.

“We’ll allege that there’s a degree of premeditation on the basis this person has travelled to that location, which is not near his residential address, he has travelled with a knife, and subsequently the bishop and the priest have been stabbed,” she said, adding the teen was not on a terror watch list.

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

The screams of parishioners as they pull the attacker off the bishop can be heard on the footage as well as the thud of the knife making contact.

Bishop Mari was taken to Liverpool Hospital while Priest Father Isaac Royel suffered a shoulder injury and lacerations to his hand as he attempted to intervene during the attack, with congregation members restraining the teen until police arrived.

The 16-year-old remains under guard in police custody after undergoing surgery for injuries sustained during the attack. He is yet to be charged.

The alleged attacker smiled as he was held down by parishioners.
The alleged attacker smiled as he was held down by parishioners. Credit: Unknown/X formerly Twitter

The attack triggered a riot as hundreds of worshippers descended on the church after seeing the livestream at home.

Riot squad officers battled to protect the church as worshippers attacked police vehicles, shattering windows and slashing tyres along Welcome Street as a helicopter flew overhead.

At least 10 police vehicles were wrecked, with another 10 damaged, as rioters threw bricks, concrete and fence palings at officers and paramedics.

One rioter, who did not want to be named, said he went to the church because he wanted to defend his religion against attack.

“It’s outrageous, the stuff that happens here,” he said on Monday night. “Our faith is always being attacked and for us to just sit and not say a word, it’s kind of us not standing up for our faith.”

Police outside the Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley.
Police outside the Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley. Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Mr Albanese said he was disturbed by the attack and rioting. “We are a peace-loving nation. This is a time to unite, not divide as a community and as a country,” he said.

And NSW Premier Chris Minns warned people not to take the law into their own hands as he called for calm across Sydney.

“Firstly, you will be met by the full force of the law, if there’s any attempt for tit-for-tat violence in Sydney over the coming days,” he said.

“Secondly, you are diverting police equipment, investigation power, as well as resources, away from the investigation of this crime.”

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he stood side-by-side with Mr Albanese as the nation grappled with the terror attack in western Sydney just days after the massacre at the Westfield shopping complex in Bondi Junction.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils released a statement on behalf of faith leaders calling for calm and unity after the riots.

“We are calling on our communities to extend our message of care and compassion to all,” the statement said.

Lakemba Mosque imam Jamal-Ud-Din El-Kiki said tensions were running high and that he was wary of the terrorist designation, which he said was a politically loaded term.

“I’m concerned about this being treated as a Muslim problem,” he said. “I think it’s about a teenager who had a knife who decided to commit a horrific action.”

The Christ the Good Shepherd Church released a statement in the wake of the riots that said it was “regretful” worshippers had defied police instruction to leave the church on Monday night.

“As a result, and after numerous attempts by police including clergy to peacefully disband visitors, police took necessary steps to disperse groups,” he said.

“Beloved, let not today’s horrific attempt upon Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel’s life diminish the Holy, perfect and Sanctified name of the risen Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ our Master, who has us to a life of unity, peace and solidarity with one another.”

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