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Sydney church knife attack against bishop and priest are acts of terrorism, police say

Police establish two task forces to look into attacker, as well as those involved in rioting

Namita Singh
Tuesday 16 April 2024 06:54 BST
Related: Sydney Opera House illuminated with black ribbon for mall stabbing victims

Stabbings in Sydney that wounded a bishop and a priest during a church service was a terrorist attack motivated by suspected religious extremism, police in Australia said.

At least two task forces have been established to look into the incident after a 16-year-old male attacker lunged at Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at the Christ Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley. Three others, including a priest, were wounded during the service as horrified worshippers watched online and in person.

While one task force will look into the background of the attacker, the other will work to identify those in the rioting mob that attacked a number of police officers and paramedics responding to the scene, reported

This comes as New South Wales police commissioner Karen Webb said the suspect’s comments pointed to a religious motive for the attack.

"We believe there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religious motivated extremism," she told a press conference.

"After consideration of all the material, I declared that it was a terrorist incident.

"We’ll allege there’s a degree of premeditation on the basis that 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 said, adding that the teenager was known to the police but was not on a terror watch list.

"They’re lucky to be alive," she said, referring to the church clerics.

The incident at the western Sydney suburb of Wakeley triggered clashes outside the church between police and an angry crowd of the bishop’s followers who demanded the attacker be handed over to them, as they hurled bricks and bottles.

A member of NSW Forensic police is seen at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley on 16 April 2024 in Sydney, Australia (Getty Images)

As a result, the police were forced to hold him at the church for his own safety as the crowd of worshippers gathered outside. The teen suspect and two police officers were hospitalised, said acting assistant police commissioner Andrew Holland.

He commended the congregation for subduing the teen before calling police. He also said the teen suffered "severe" injuries to his hand.

More than 100 police reinforcements arrived before the teen was taken from the church in the hours-long incident. Several police vehicles were damaged, Mr Holland said.

"A number of houses have been damaged. They’ve broken into a number of houses to gain weapons to throw at the police. They’ve thrown weapons and items at the church itself. There were obviously people who wanted to get access to the young person who caused the injuries to the clergy people," he said.

Condemning the violent attack on the police, Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw called the response “un-Australian”.

“It’s a disgraceful act from [members of] the community who attacked police at the scene,” Mr Kershaw said.

Ms Webb also warned those involved in rioting to expect “a knock at the door”. “We will find you and we will prosecute you,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), the nation’s main domestic spy agency, and Australian Federal Police had joined the state police in a counter-terrorism task force to investigate who else was potentially involved.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess said the investigation had yet to uncover any associated threats. "It does appear to be religiously motivated, but we continue our lines of investigation," Mr Burgess said.

"Our job is to look at individuals connected with the attacker to assure ourselves that there is no one else in the community with similar intent. At this stage, we have no indications of that," Mr Burgess added.

NSW Forensic Police are seen at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley on16 April 2024 in Sydney, Australia (Getty Images)

On ASIO’s advice, the risk of a terrorist attack in Australia is rated at "possible". That is the second lowest level after "not expected" on the five-tier National Terrorism Threat Advisory System.

Meanwhile, prime minister Anthony Albanese urged restraint, saying "there is no place for violence in our community. There’s no place for violent extremism".

Christ the Good Shepherd Church also issued a statement denouncing “retaliation” as it called the attack an isolated incident and said it was awaiting the police findings into the motive of the attacker.

New South Wales state premier Chris Minns urged the community to remain calm and “stick together” as he discouraged people from taking the law into their hands

"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.

State officials have also reached out to local leaders in the outreach program as the attack comes days after a lone assailant stabbed six people to death in a Sydney shopping mall, injuring more than a dozen.

"Given that there have been incidents in Sydney the last few days with knives involved, obviously there’s concerns," he said. "We’ve asked for everyone to think rationally at this stage. We spoke to community leaders and members of the community to speak to their local people, to try and keep people calm."

Additional reporting by agencies

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