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Australian police arrest 15-year-old after bishop wounded in church stabbing

Published 04/15/2024, 08:23 AM
Updated 04/15/2024, 01:51 PM
© Reuters. An attacker approaches Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel during a church service at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, Sydney, Australia April 15, 2024 in this still image from social media livestream video obtained by REUTERS

By Lewis Jackson, Stella Qiu, Scott Murdoch

SYDNEY (Reuters) -At least four people were wounded, including a bishop with a global online following, in a knife attack during a service at a church in a suburb of Sydney on Monday, police and witnesses said, triggering clashes between angry residents and police.

Police said they arrested a 15-year-old male at the scene and were forced to hold him at the church in Wakeley, a suburb about 30 km (18 miles) west of downtown Sydney, for his own safety after a crowd gathered outside and demanded the attacker be brought out. 

It was the second major stabbing attack in just three days after six people were killed in a knife attack at a beachside mall in the Bondi area. 

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel of the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church was speaking during an evening service on Monday when a man walked towards him and lunged with a knife, according to video of the event captured from a livestream on the church's social media page.

Horrified members of the congregation scream as the man stabs the priest several times in the head and chest, the videos show. A separate eyewitness video, verified by Reuters and taken in the aftermath of the incident, shows the man being pinned to the ground by several others, his face obscured. A voice speaks in Arabic and says: "If they didn’t insult my prophet, I wouldn’t have come here. If he didn’t involve himself in my religion, I would not have come here."

Authorities disclosed no motive for the attack and have not identified the suspect.

Two witnesses told Reuters the crowd threw rocks at police. More than 100 police officers were ultimately called in to deal with the unrest, and two were taken to hospital with injuries, police said. Reuters saw two men pepper sprayed.

"There was so much anger because the bishop is loved by them, he’s loved by myself as well, he preaches about the Lord and we love the Lord,” said a local resident who gave her name as Canny.

The perpetrator was taken to an undisclosed location.

The New South Wales ambulance service said four people had been injured in the attack. In a Facebook (NASDAQ:META) post, the church said bishop Emmanuel and a priest, Father Isaac Royel, were among those hurt. Police said no injuries were life-threatening.

"We ask for your prayers at this time. It is the Bishop's and Father's wishes that you also pray for the perpetrator," the church's post said. 

Emmanuel was ordained a priest in 2009 and then a bishop in 2011, according to the church's website. The bishop has become a popular figure on social media, with clips of his sermons racking up hundreds of thousands of views on platforms including YouTube and TikTok. 

Emmanuel became well known for his hardline views during the pandemic, local media reported at the time, with the bishop describing COVID lockdowns as "mass slavery".

A recent sermon posted online by fans shows him claim the United Nations was founded by Satan. 

FAITH GROUPS CONDEMN VIOLENCE

Coming only days after a mass stabbing attack in Bondi, the attack drew condemnation from the city's religious communities and calls for calm from authorities.

New South Wales state Premier Chris Minns convened a late-night meeting of faith leaders following the attack, which unanimously condemned violence in any form.

In a separate statement, the Australian National Imams Council denounced the "horrifying" attack and urged the community to stay calm.  

"Extremely concerning scenes at a Sydney church," the Australian Jewish Association said in a social media post. 

© Reuters. An attacker approaches Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel during a church service at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, Sydney, Australia April 15, 2024 in this still image from social media livestream video obtained by REUTERS

"Our thoughts are with our Assyrian friends."

Police said they would patrol mosques and other places of religious worship across south-western Sydney in the early hours of Tuesday.

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