Stabbing of bishop at Sydney church was ‘terrorist act,’ police say


AUSTRALIA – A bishop and a priest were stabbed in an alleged “terrorist act” at a Sydney church that sparked a riot last Monday, police said, just two days after the Australian city was rocked by a mass stabbing in a busy shopping mall.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was presiding over a service that was being livestreamed at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the western suburb of Wakeley, when an alleged attacker was seen charging toward him. Several parishioners immediately attempted to intervene while screams could be heard in the church.

Members of the public restrained the alleged attacker at the scene, according to New South Wales (NSW) police. Police then arrived and arrested the suspect, later identified as a 16-year-old boy, who was taken to the hospital under custody and received surgery for injuries sustained during the attack. Police initially said he was 15.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb told reporters yesterday that police believe the attack was premeditated.
“We will allege [the suspect] attended that church armed with a knife and stabbed the bishop and priest … We believe there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religious motivated extremism,” she said.
A 53-year-old man received cuts to his head and a 39-year-old man, who was injured after attempting to intervene, suffered cuts and a shoulder wound, police said. Both were treated by paramedics and taken to the hospital. “They are lucky to be alive,” Webb said.

In a statement, Christ The Good Shepherd Church said Bishop Emmanuel suffered several blows to the head and body. Parish priest Father Isaac Royel was also injured but no one else inside the church was harmed, it said.

Charbel Saliba, Deputy Mayor of Fairfield City, a suburb of western Sydney, told CNN that Emmanuel was well known in the local community. While the bishop was bleeding, “he put his hand on the man that stabbed him and said something like, ‘May the Lord Jesus Christ Save you,’” Saliba said, citing a witness. Video of the attack spread quickly on social media, prompting angry members of the community to converge on the church, police said. Footage showed chaotic scenes as people threw objects at police cars.

Webb, the police commissioner, condemned the “uncontrolled” crowd that gathered soon after officers and first responders arrived on the scene, calling their conduct “totally unacceptable.” “People converged on that area and began to turn on police. 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,” Webb said.

NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said paramedics and police were forced to retreat inside the church, where they were holed up for three and a half hours as crowds rioted outside. “This was a rapidly evolving situation where the crowds went from 50 to hundreds of people in a very rapid period of time. Our paramedics became directly under threat,” he said. “Six of our paramedics could not leave that facility for fear of their own safety. I echo the words of the police commissioner. This is outrageous.” NSW Ambulance treated 30 patients, Morgan said, including seven who were taken to hospital. Around 20 were treated for the effects of pepper spray.
Some 20 police vehicles were damaged with 10 deemed unusable, police said.

In its statement, the Church backed the police response, saying officers took “necessary steps” when onlookers and visitors who had came to express their support for the bishop refused “numerous” requests by police and clergy to leave.
The Church “categorizes this attack as isolated” and “denounces retaliation of any kind,” it added.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said the scenes were “disturbing,” and he convened a meeting late last Monday of faith leaders representing different religious communities across western Sydney.

The suspect, who has not been named, had not been on any terror watch list, Police Commissioner Webb said. Police believe he was acting alone but emphasized the investigation is in its preliminary stages.
Webb said police had spoken with the boy’s parents, but she could not provide specific details of that conversation.

The incident comes shortly after six people were killed and several others were injured, including a 9-month-old baby, in a stabbing attack at Westfield Bondi Junction in Sydney last Saturday.
Australian police said last Monday that the attacker in Bondi, 40-year-old Joel Cauchi, may have targeted women.
Five women were among those killed in that attack. Twelve others were injured, eight of whom remained in the hospital Monday in conditions ranging from stable to critical.