Teen accused of church attack had knife-crime history

Jack Gramenz, Samantha Lock and Sophia McCaughan |

Police pushed back an angry mob outside a Sydney church after the stabbing of a bishop.
Police pushed back an angry mob outside a Sydney church after the stabbing of a bishop.

A stabbing attack at a western Sydney church that hospitalised two clergymen is being treated as a terrorist act, with the teenager allegedly responsible having a history of knife-related crime.

The 16-year-old boy is under police guard in hospital after what investigators say appeared to be a religiously motivated and planned attack at Christ the Good Shepherd Church at suburban Wakeley.

Premier Chris Minns confirmed the teenager was found with a knife at school in 2020 and was placed on a good behaviour bond over a knife crime three months ago.

In light of a series of stabbing incidents across Sydney in the past week, Mr Minns said he would consider tougher knife laws. 

“We increased knife laws about six months ago after the terrible death of Steven Tougher, the NSW paramedic, but I’m not prepared to rule anything out … it would be irresponsible not to look at it,” he told 2GB Sydney radio on Tuesday.

The controversial leader of the Assyrian church, Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, was stabbed by a black-clad figure while conducting a live-streamed sermon on Monday night.

A priest was also injured after trying to intervene.

The attack was declared a religion-based “terrorist incident” by NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb, triggering expanded powers to stop and search people, premises and vehicles without a warrant.

Special powers to prevent further attacks could also be exercised if needed, although they had not been requested, Ms Webb said.

Church stabbing probe.
Investigations continue at the scene of the stabbing and unrest at the Sydney church. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Footage from the church showed a person dressed in black stabbing the bishop at the altar as parishioners screamed and ran to his aid.

The teenager was held by members of the church and arrested at the scene.

The weapon used has been described as a flick knife. The blade is believed to have severed one of the attacker’s fingers.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was briefed on the incident ahead of a National Security Committee of Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess said the agency supported NSW Police declaring an act of terrorism, adding that the incident appeared to be religiously motivated.

“There’s no indication anyone else is involved, but that remains an open investigation,” he said.

Premier Chris Minns and Multiculturalism Minister Steve Kamper met with faith leaders, thanking them for their overnight efforts to quell retaliation.

NSW Premier Chris Minns with religious leaders in Sydney.
NSW Premier Chris Minns discussed the attack with religious leaders at talks in Sydney. (Louise Kennerley/AAP PHOTOS)

Police and paramedics were forced to shelter in the church for several hours as a violent crowd descended on the site, injuring several officers as they were struck with projectiles.

The Assyrian church said Bishop Emmanuel and a senior priest were in a stable condition and appealed for calm.

The Assyrian church preaches a conservative version of Christianity distinct from many of the major denominations active in Australia.

Assyrian Christians living in the Middle East are a minority group and the population has shrunk since the rise of ISIS in Iraq a decade ago, according to Minority Rights Group.

SYDNEY CHURCH STABBING
Police officers and squad cars were targeted by an angry mob after the stabbing attack. (Paul Braven/AAP PHOTOS)

Bishop Emmanuel has previously attracted attention for his outspoken views on a range of topics, including his description of the COVID-19 outbreak as a “plandemic”.

He also publicly criticised Islamic teachings and those of other non-Christian religions.

Local mayor Frank Carbone, speaking at the church scene on Tuesday, said it was very concerning for the community that a 16-year-old boy was allegedly responsible.

“There has to be something wrong when that happens,” he said.

The attack came two days after six people were killed and more than a dozen injured in an attack at the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping centre in Sydney’s east. 

The mass stabbing, carried out by a mentally ill man who was shot dead at the scene, was not declared a terrorist incident.

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