Father of Sydney church attacker says no signs of radicalism, community leader says

By Thomson Reuters Apr 16, 2024 | 10:30 PM

By Renju Jose and Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The father of the teenager that stabbed an Assyrian bishop during a church service in Sydney saw no signs of radicalism, a community leader said on Wednesday, as police planned to charge people who attacked emergency services following the incident.

The attack on Monday evening by a male teenager, which injured Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel of the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church, has been deemed a terrorist act motivated by suspected religious extremism.

Lebanese Muslim Association Secretary Gamel Kheir, who was with the boy’s father after he fled his home on Monday evening for fear of reprisals and took shelter in a local mosque, said he had seen no signs of radicalism in his son.

“He said other than him being rebellious to him… there were no signs. There were absolutely no signs to him,” Kheir told Reuters.

Police said the family of the alleged attacker have temporarily moved out of their western Sydney home.

The stabbing has stirred up fears of persecution for the Assyrian community – predominantly Christians from the Middle East – some of whom fled their homeland because of their faith. Roughly 40% of Australia’s 42,000 strong Assyrian population live in the area around the church.

“It’s very devastating, the Assyrian community have come from Iraq because they had been persecuted for being Christian,” said Maria, whose family migrated to Australia from Iraq in 1993.

“(Monday’s) attack on our faith is just an old reminder of what happened back home.”

The city’s Muslim community is also on alert.

The Lebanese Muslim Association said the Lakemba mosque in Sydney’s southwest, one of Australia’s largest, had received firebomb threats on Monday night.

“We’ve had to employ two security guards to protect the mosque,” Kheir said.


Monday’s 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.

New South Wales state police commissioner Karen Webb said it was possible police would begin arresting those responsible for the subsequent clashes later on Wednesday.

Police were carefully going through visuals from body cameras and other surveillance footage to identify as many rioters as possible, Webb told ABC Radio.

“(Police have) some clear indications of whom some of those individuals were and they can expect a knock at the door,” Webb said, adding not all who came to the church attacked the police.

Several emergency personnel were injured and 20 police vehicles were damaged in the riot.

The 53-year-old bishop Emmanuel, who has a popular youth following on TikTok, has been a target for criticism, hate and online trolling. His sermons range from homilies on the Bible to fiery criticisms of homosexuality, COVID vaccinations, Islam and U.S. President Joe Biden’s election.

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Michael Perry)