Wakeley church attack: Church attack declared a terror incident

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Bishop Mari was allegedly attacked while delivering a sermon in Sydney.
Bishop Mari was allegedly attacked while delivering a sermon in Sydney. Credit: X formerly Twitter

Police are treating an alleged stabbing incident at an Assyrian church in western Sydney overnight as a terrorist act.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday morning, NSW Premier Chris Minns said the decision was made early on Tuesday morning and validated by the police minister.

“This is a major and serious criminal investigation,” Mr Minns said.

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“It is crucial that New South Wales police are able to devote their resources and intelligence as well as officers to the investigation of this crime.”

A teenager was arrested after allegedly stabbing an Orthodox Christian bishop in front of worshippers attending a church service at the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley on Monday night.

Assyrian Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was in the middle of delivering a sermon at the church when a man dressed in black approached him at the altar and allegedly began stabbing him in his face and body.

At least four people were wounded in the alleged stabbing attack
At least four people were wounded in the alleged stabbing attack Credit: X formerly Twitter

At least four people were wounded in the alleged stabbing attack — which came days after seven people, including the assailant, were killed in a stabbing spree at a Bondi Junction shopping centre — which triggered violent clash between locals and police outside the Assyrian church.

The YouTube live stream of the service, which captured the alleged attack, showed the congregation charge toward Emmanuel and the man in black before it cut off.

Police were called to the church at about 7.10pm to find a 53-year-old man with lacerations to his head and a 39-year-old man with a shoulder wound, sustained after “attempting to intervene” in the alleged attack.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb confirmed that a alleged attacker, understood to be a 16-year-old, was known to police but had not been on any terror watch list.

Parishoner’s restrained the alleged attacker.
Parishoner’s restrained the alleged attacker. Credit: 7NEWS

Nonetheless, she said, after convening with the counter-terrorist command, she was “satisfied” that the attack had elements of “religious motivated extremism” and “the intimidation of the public” through the teen’s acts — attacking during a live streamed sermon — to be considered terrorism.

“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,” Ms Webb told reporters.

The priest and bishop are currently in surgery, she said, and are “lucky to be alive”.

It is understood police have communicated with the boy’s parents, and investigations — one into the terrorist incident and another into the riot — are under way.

Authorities condemned the violent actions of the rioters who swarmed the Assyrian church after the alleged stabbing attack.

Premier Minns called for calm in the wake of the incidents, saying he wanted to make it clear that there was “no such thing in Australia [as] taking the law into your own hands” and any attempts of “tit for tat violence” in Sydney in the coming days would be met with “the full force of the law”.

Commissioner Webb said 20 police vehicles were damaged in the riot, 10 of which are now “unusable”, and promised that anyone who was involved in the chaos “can expect a knock at the door”.

“People used what was available to them in the area, including bricks, concrete, palings, to assault police, and throw missiles at police and police equipment, and police vehicles,” she said.

“This is unacceptable. Police attended the incident in Wakeley last night to assist that community in response to calls for assistance, and the crowd turned on police. That is unacceptable and those that were involved in that riot can expect a knock at the door.

“It might not be today. It might not be tomorrow. But we’ll find you and we’ll come and arrest you.”

She said additional patrols will be rolled out across Sydney to help keep calm in the community.

The alleged stabbing prompted angry scenes outside the church.
The alleged stabbing prompted angry scenes outside the church. Credit: 7NEWS

A NSW Ambulance spokesperson echoed the condemnation of the “outrageous” violence, which saw six attending paramedics forced to “retreat into the church” out of fear for their own safety.

He said the riot was a “rapidly evolving situation” that saw the crowd boom from 50 to “hundreds” of people in moments.

“The words of some of our staff last night were this was terrifying and extremely violent,” he added.

Paramedics attended to 30 patients at the scene — of those, seven were transported to hospitals across Sydney, and another sent by private transport for other medical conditions, and 20 were affected by capsicum spray.

Premier Minns called for calm in the wake of the attack, warning people not to respond to rumours that can “start disharmony” in the community again.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed he had been briefed by the AFP on the “shocking” Wakeley incident, and urged Australians to “stand together”.

Speaking to WSFM Radio on Tuesday morning, he reiterated calls for “calm” as the police carry out their investigation.

“There is no place for violence in our community, there is no room for violent extremism. We’re a peace-loving nation. This is a time to unite not be divided as a community,” he said.

As investigations continue, any witnesses, anyone with information or mobile phone vision who has not yet spoken to police, is urged to call police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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