Sydney church knife attack was act of ‘terror’


Australian police say the knife attack during a live church service was an act of “terror” driven by religious reasons, while at the same time the authorities appealed to the angry community to remain calm.

Two people were injured when a 16-year-old suspect stormed into the Assyrian Christian church in western Sydney late on Monday and attacked a bishop who was preaching with a knife.

The bishop was stabbed in the head and chest and taken to a hospital.

Angry churchgoers restrained the attacker and later handed him over to the police.

He is “known to the police” but was not on any terror lists, senior officers said.

“After considering the material, I declared that it was a terrorist incident,” said New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb.

Webb says the attack is considered an act of faith-driven “extremism” that intimidated people. She also says the victims are “lucky to be alive”.

The head of Australia’s top spy agency said the suspect appeared to have acted alone and that there was no immediate need to raise the country’s terror level.

“At this stage it looks like the actions of an individual,” Mike Burgess, head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, said in a rare public comment.

The other people are being treated for injuries due to the attack and nearly 30 more have been treated after a riot outside the church.

More than 500 protesters fought for about three hours against the riot police who came to prevent them from re-entering the church and dealing with the teenager themselves.

He is now being held at an undisclosed location and apparently also sustained knife wounds. Authorities initially said he was 15 years old.

An AFP reporter saw objects being hurled on Monday while the riot police with shields and bulletproof vests were finally able to push the protesters away from the church.

About 20 police vehicles and several houses were damaged as protesters threw bottles, bricks and other items.

One officer was hit by a metal object and suffered a knee injury, while his tooth was also broken, the police said.

Another constable’s jaw was broken when a brick hit him.

Order was finally restored, but more officers were deployed in the neighborhood to secure local faith buildings.

The church said in a statement on Tuesday that the victim, Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, is in a stable condition and “going strong”.

Call for calm

AFP confirmed the video of Monday’s attack as the one taken at Christ the Good Shepherd Church. The church has about 200,000 online followers.

It is located in Wakeley, in the west of Sydney. The area is a center for Sydney’s small Assyrian Christian community, many of whom have fled persecution and war in Iraq and Syria.

Chris Minns, premier of New South Wales, pleaded for calm in a joint statement with Christian and Muslim leaders.

“We appeal to everyone to act with goodwill and respect for each other,” the statement read.

“Now is the time to show that we are strong and united.”

The attack follows only two days after a 40-year-old man with a knife killed six people at a shopping center in the east of the city. A police officer shot him dead.