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Sydney church stabbing declared 'terrorist' attack, eyewitness says attacker chanted 'Allahu Akbar' (WATCH)

Australian police have declared Monday's stabbing at a Sydney church a religiously motivated "terrorist act". The incident, captured on a church livestream, swiftly sparked unrest in Wakeley suburb.

Sydney church stabbing declared 'terrorist' attack, eyewitness says attacker chanted 'Allahu Akbar' (WATCH) snt
First Published Apr 16, 2024, 1:52 PM IST

Australian authorities have labeled Monday's stabbing at a Sydney church a religiously motivated "terrorist act". Following the attack during mass at the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church, where a bishop, a priest, and churchgoers were targeted, a 16-year-old suspect was apprehended. Police reported that at least four individuals sustained "non-life-threatening" injuries, including the assailant.

The incident, captured on a church livestream, swiftly sparked unrest in Wakeley suburb. While investigations are ongoing, Australian law enforcement asserts this as a case of religious extremism, falling within the purview of terror offenses defined by ideological motivation.

Authorities have consistently declined to specify the religion of the alleged attacker. However, an eyewitness claimed that the attacker kept saying, "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar," in a video that has now gone viral on X.

Graphic videos of the assault and its aftermath rapidly circulated on social media on Monday night, inciting an enraged crowd to gather at the Assyrian Orthodox Church, located approximately 35km southwest of the city center.

Hundreds of individuals clashed violently with police, who were stationed at the church where the attacker was receiving medical attention from paramedics.

In the tumult, two officers sustained injuries, one suffering a broken jaw after being struck with a brick and fence palings, while ten police vehicles were damaged.

The escalation of violence also prompted paramedics to seek refuge inside the church, fearing for their safety, where they remained for over three hours.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese convened an emergency meeting of national security agencies, calling the attack "disturbing".

"We're a peace-loving nation... There's no place for violent extremism," he said following the shocking incident. Tying to quell further violence, Albanese urged that people "not take the law into their own hands".

Addressing the media on Tuesday morning, New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Karen Webb stated that the bishop and priest were undergoing surgery and emphasized that they were "lucky to be alive."

Identified by the church, the priest is named Father Isaac Royel, while the bishop goes by the name Mar Mari Emmanuel. Bishop Emmanuel, ordained in 2011, is regarded as both a popular and contentious figure, with his sermons garnering millions of views on social media platforms.

Webb stated that the teenager purportedly directed comments towards the bishop as he approached, focusing on religion. Police infer that orchestrating the attack during a livestreamed service was meant to be "intimidating not only [to] the parishioners in attendance, but those parishioners who were watching online."

She clarified that the suspect acted alone and, although "known to police," he was not on any terror watch list. The alleged perpetrator underwent surgery for injuries to his fingers, with police noting uncertainty whether the injuries occurred from his own weapon or during his apprehension by the congregation.

The incident occurred just days after the nation was rattled by a separate and unrelated stabbing at a popular Sydney shopping center, resulting in the deaths of seven individuals.

"NSW is on edge and there's understandable community anxiety at the moment," said state premier Chris Minns. He appealed for calm, echoing calls from religious and community leaders.

"Their message to their communities was universal and identical, and that is that they deplore violence in all forms, [and] that they have faith in the NSW Police to undertake their investigation," Minns added.

Any attempt for "tit-for-tat" violence would by "met by the full force of the law", he added.

Webb announced the formation of a strike force dedicated to apprehending those involved in the riot, stating, "We will find you and we will come and arrest you."

The Wakeley neighborhood serves as a focal point for Sydney's small Christian Assyrian community, many of whom have sought refuge from persecution and conflict in Iraq and Syria.

Bishop Emmanuel stands as a prominent leader within this community, recognized as one of the "kindest, most authentic, genuine human beings," according to local MP Dai Le.

However, the bishop's relationship with the Assyrian Church has been marked by turbulence, reportedly leading to his suspension for defiance of church canons and establishment of a breakaway congregation.

In 2021, he emerged as a vocal critic of Covid-19 restrictions, denouncing lockdown measures in Australia as akin to slavery and contending that vaccines were ineffectual.

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