Sydney teen accused of stabbing 2 clerics showed no signs of radicalization, Muslim leader says

SYDNEY (AP) — A 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing two Christian clerics during a Sydney church service might have “anger management and behavioral issues” and a “short fuse” but had shown no signs of being radicalized, a community leader said on Thursday, after authorities declared the stabbing a terrorist attack.

The teen spoke in Arabic about the Prophet Muhammad being insulted after he stabbed Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and the Rev. Isaac Royel during Monday night's Assyrian Orthodox service, which was being streamed online.

The bishop released an audio statement on Thursday saying he was “doing fine, recovering very quickly” and that he forgave his attacker.

Jamal Rifi, a Sydney doctor and Muslim community leader, said the boy had apologized when his family visited him in the hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“He kept apologizing to his mum and saying sorry and all that sort of thing, and he showed remorse for what he did,” Rifi told Sydney Radio 2GB. Rifi said he spoke on Wednesday with the teenager's parents, sister and an uncle who all condemned the boy's actions. The family had relocated from their home since the attack to avoid retaliation.

The teen's mother told Rifi that “he always listened to music, he played the drums, he actually danced to the music. A radical person ... would not do that." Rifi added that the family did not see any signs of radicalization.

“She said that he had trouble in his life, had anger management issues, a short fuse and for no valid reasons, he just gets angry,” he added.

The teen had seen three psychologists, a school counsellor and had an appointment to see a psychiatrist. The mother was told her son might have a “an autism spectrum disorder or anger management and behavioral issues, but there is no clear diagnosis,” Rifi said.

According to media reports, the boy had been convicted in January of a range of offenses including possession of a switchblade knife, being armed with a weapon with an intention to commit an indictable offense, stalking, intimidation and damaging property. He was released from court on a good behavior bond but had been expelled from school for bringing a knife to class.

The teen sustained severe hand injuries when parishioners in Christ the Good Shepherd Church overpowered him. He is likely to remain in an undisclosed hospital under police guard for several days. He has yet to be charged.

Police say while the attack could be classified as a terrorist act under New South Wales law, that did not mean the boy would be charged with terrorism offenses.

A crowd of up to 600 people converged on the church after the attack, some demanding police hand over the boy. Hours of rioting led to 51 police officers being injured. Sydney mosques also received fire-bomb threats.

The bishop used his statement to call for calm after the attack, which was Australia's second high-profile knife attack in a week, after a man stabbed six people to death at a busy Sydney shopping center on Saturday before he was fatally shot

“The Lord Jesus never said go out and fight in the street, never said to retaliate, but to prayer. And this is what I’m asking everyone to do,” Emmanuel said.

“I forgive whoever has done this act. And I say to him, you are my son, I love you and I will always pray for you. And whoever sent you to do this, I forgive them as well,” the bishop said.


McGuirk contributed from Melbourne, Australia.