Sydney terror charges a double standard: Muslim groups

Samantha Lock |

Presuming terrorism is inherent to religion is inaccurate and harmful, Ramia Abdo Sultan says.
Presuming terrorism is inherent to religion is inaccurate and harmful, Ramia Abdo Sultan says.

Muslim groups have slammed “differing treatments” in police handling of the Bondi Junction stabbing attack and the stabbing of a bishop at a Sydney church, saying the disparate response has left the community traumatised and isolated.

Five teenage boys were charged on Thursday with terrorism offences connected to the stabbing of an Orthodox Christian leader in Wakeley on April 15.

The attack came just days after six people were killed by Joel Cauchi in a stabbing rampage at Westfield Bondi Junction.

The shopping centre attack was “quickly deemed a mental health issue” while the church incident was “classified as a terrorist act almost immediately”, Muslim groups including the alliance of Australian Muslims and the Australian Muslim advocacy network said on Friday.

Australian National Imams Council’s Ramia Abdo Sultan said the disparity in police response was a double standard and called for an inquiry into the processes leading up to the raids on the teenage boys.

“The differing treatments of two recent violent incidents, the senseless stabbing deaths at Bondi Junction and the tragic event at Wakeley church are stark,” Ms Sultan said.

The lawyer and communication relations advisor said the inconsistency has been exacerbated by police handling of a recent case where a device suspected to be a bomb was found attached to the car of a Sydney man who had erected a Palestinian flag outside his home.

“Yet this has not been labelled terrorism,” Ms Sultan said.

“Such disparities in response create a perception of a double standard in law enforcement and judicial processes.”

Ms Sultan said an “immediate and thorough inquiry” into the processes leading up to the raids would ensure transparency and accountability.

“The presumption that terrorism is inherently tied to religion is not only inaccurate but also harmful,” she said. 

Six boys, aged 14 to 17, have been charged following 13 raids at homes across Sydney and a week-long investigation into a group allegedly adhering to religiously motivated violent extremist ideology.

NSW Police said on Friday that four had now been charged with conspiring to engage in preparations for a terrorist act.

Two others, aged 14 and 17, were charged with possessing or controlling violent extremist material through a communication service.

A seventh boy who was arrested in the raids has been released pending further investigations.

Police said group members did not name specific targets but the ongoing threat and loose nature of the group, including splinter groups, alarmed authorities.

They were allegedly connected to a 16-year-old boy charged with the stabbing of Assyrian bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and priest Isaac Royel on April 15.

Ms Sultan said the Muslim community had not been consulted before the police operations.

Police arrest a person after executing search warrants in Sydney
Ramia Abdo Sultan has called for an inquiry into the processes leading up to raids on teenage boys. (Nsw Police/AAP PHOTOS)

“This lack of transparency exacerbates the distress within our community,” she said. 

“There must be a commitment to meaningful engagement regarding this process with the community and to avoid sensationalism that can cause undue panic and a breakdown of social cohesion.”

The Lebanese Muslim Association urged police to share intelligence to help stamp out any extremism in the community.

Secretary Gamel Kheir said it was important for the community to stay united with authorities. 

“We need to move on and work out how to resolve the ongoing issue of meeting these youths before they fall between the cracks,” he told AAP.

“There were 400 police officers used to arrest seven youths … what kind of message is that sending?

“There’s surely a way to go about it that isn’t so heavy-handed.”

Police are still searching for another six men captured on video outside the Christ the Good Shepherd Church following a riot that injured dozens of officers.

The violent melee, which investigators say involved 2000 people, followed the stabbing of Bishop Emmanuel during a live-streamed service.

Eight men have since been charged over the riot and remain before the courts.

The men were being targeted by detectives due to the “violent and aggressive nature of their actions”, Superintendent Andrew Evans said on Friday.