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

By Renju Jose and Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) -The father of a teenager arrested for the stabbing of an Assyrian bishop during a church service in Sydney saw no signs of radicalism, a community leader said on Wednesday, as police sought to charge people who attacked emergency crews after the incident.

The attack on Monday evening, 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 told Reuters the boy's father 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," said Kheir, who was with the man when he left his home to take shelter in a local mosque on Monday.

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

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. She declined to give her last name.

"(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.

The incident at the church was the second major stabbing attack in three days in Australia's most populous city after six people were killed in a knife attack at a mall near Bondi Beach on Saturday.

The shopping centre will be open to the public on Thursday and businesses will be allowed to resume business from Friday. A candlelight vigil will take place at Bondi Beach this weekend to mourn the victims, authorities said.


Monday's attack at the western Sydney suburb of Wakeley, which was captured on a livestream of the sermon, triggered clashes outside the church between police and an angry crowd who demanded the suspected 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.

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, Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast.)