Why the Wakeley church stabbing was a terror act but not the Bondi Junction massacre

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuelle was attacked during a sermon in Wakeley, Sydney.
Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuelle was attacked during a sermon in Wakeley, Sydney. Credit: X formerly Twitter

Authorities were quick to declare a teenager’s alleged stabbing attack on an Orthodox Christian bishop a terrorist act but they didn’t do the same for the Bondi Junction massacre, raising questions about why the incidents are being treated so differently.

But it is what authorities describe as the “religious motivations” of this latest attack that have authorities so concerned about terrorism.

A 16-year-old boy was arrested after allegedly stabbing prominent western Sydney bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel multiple times during a sermon at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley on Monday evening.

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At least two people were wounded, including Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, in the terrifying incident which came days after seven people, including the assailant, were killed in a stabbing spree at Bondi Junction Westfield.

But unlike the shopping centre massacre carried out by diagnosed schizophrenic Joel Cauchi, police are treating the Wakely attack as a terrorism incident.

ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess explained on Tuesday this was because there was evidence to suggest the attack was “religiously motivated or ideologically motivated”.

“In the case of Saturday, that was not the case. In this case, the information we have and the police have before us, indicates that is strongly the case,” he said.

Police are seen at Christ The Good Shepherd Church
Police at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley. Credit: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

Section 100.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 defines a terrorist act as an “action or threat of action” which is done with the intention of “advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause” and of “coercing” or “intimidating” a government or public.

The Code defines a terrorist act as one that causes physical harm, death, endangers life, creates “serious property damage”, or creates a “serious risk to public health or safety”.

Those found guilty of terrorism offences — from preparing for a terrorist act, participating in the activities of a terrorist organisation, financing terror, or travelling overseas to “engage in hostile activities” — can face up to a life sentence behind bars.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb, who first declared the Wakeley attack an act of terror, said she and the state’s counter-terrorist command were “satisfied” the incident had elements of “religiously motivated extremism”.

Footage has emerged of the teen allegedly uttering chilling words in Arabic to the angry parishioners who restrained him after the attack.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the teen allegedly told those standing over him words that translated to: “If he (the bishop) 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”.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw declined to comment on what religion the alleged perpetrator prescribed to when asked by reporters on Tuesday.

He also refused to be drawn on whether the boy had been radicalised online or if there had been warning signs of a looming attack.

Mr Kershaw said the joint counter-terrorism team were investigating all lines of questioning.

“At this stage, there’s no indication of anyone else involved, but that remains an open investigation,” he added.

Commissioner Webb said police will also allege the teen’s act had a “degree of premeditation” and was a bid to intimidate the public.

“By attending that church, whilst it was being live streamed, intimidating not only the parishioners in attendance, but those parishioners in watching online, and subsequently those people that turned up to the church on the outside and the subsequent riot that happened,” she said.

“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.

Police at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley in Sydney
Riots erupted outside the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley following a stabbing attack. Credit: Paul Braven/AAP

Hundreds of people swarmed the church after the alleged stabbing, which was captured in the church service’s livestream, spurring violent riots that caused carnage in the street for hours into the night.

Investigations are ongoing, and the accused has not yet been charged with any offence.

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