Teen suspect in Sydney church stabbing attack charged with terrorism

A teenager accused of stabbing a bishop in a Sydney church during a service has been charged with terrorism, Australian police said.

The 16-year-old boy was questioned by the police from Australia’s joint counter terrorism team, police officials said on Thursday. He is currently recovering from his injuries and admitted in a hospital under police guard.

He has been charged with committing a terrorist act by the police after a round of questioning and if convicted, he could be sentenced for the maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.

“This afternoon, investigators from the Joint Counter Terrorism Team Sydney attended a medical facility to interview the boy, before he was charged with committing a terrorist act under section 101.1 Criminal Code Act (Commonwealth) 1995, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life,” the New South Wales state police said in a statement on Thursday.

The bishop was stabbed as many as six times and the boy had travelled for 90 minutes from his home to reach the Assyrian church, said New South Wales state police commissioner Karen Webb during a press conference.

The teen has been refused bail and is expected to appear before a bedside court hearing on Friday, Ms Webb said.

Shortly after the boy allegedly attacked Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, a riot broke out outside the church as an angry crowd demanded the suspected attacker be handed over to them. More than 50 police officers were injured and 20 police cars were damaged.

The prominent 53-year-old Orthodox Christian leader on Thursday said he has forgiven his attacker and asked his supporters to be “Christlike” and refrain from any violence.

He has a popular youth following on TikTok and has been a target of criticism, hate and online trolling. His sermons range from homilies on the Bible to fiery criticisms of homosexuality, Covid-19 vaccinations, Islam and the election of president Joe Biden.

“There is no need to be worried or concerned. And a piece of advice to all our beloved faithful – I need you to act Christlike,” the bishop said.

“The Lord Jesus never taught us to fight, the Lord Jesus never taught us to retaliate, the Lord Jesus never said to us ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.”

He continued: “I forgive whoever has done this act. I say to him, you’re my son, I love you, and I will always pray for you. And whoever sent you to do this, I forgive them as well.”

In the audio message sent from his hospital bed, Bishop Emmamual added: “I have nothing in my heart but love for everyone. Whether that person is a Christian or not, it’s totally beside the point.”

Australia’s most populous city has been rocked by two knife attacks within three days - at a mall near Bondi beach that killed six people on Saturday and at the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Sydney’s west on Monday.

The shopping centre will reopen for business on Friday, while a candlelight vigil will be held on Sunday to mourn the victims.