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AUSTRALIA sydney stabbing CHURCH reuters3 header.JPG
AUSTRALIA sydney stabbing CHURCH reuters3.JPG
Reuters
World News

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

by Reuters Journalist

The father of a teenager arrested for stabbing an Assyrian bishop during a Sydney church service saw no signs of radicalism, a community leader said on Wednesday, as police began to arrest those who fought emergency crews in a riot triggered by the attack.

Monday evening's attack, 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 temporarily moved out of their western Sydney home for fear of reprisals.

The stabbing has stirred fears of persecution among the Assyrian community, predominantly Christians from the Middle East, some of whom fled their homeland because of their faith.

About 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 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 church incident 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 from Friday. A candlelight vigil at the beach this weekend will mourn the victims, authorities said.

Monday's attack in the western Sydney suburb of Wakeley, captured on a livestream of the sermon, triggered clashes outside the church between police and an angry crowd who demanded that the suspected attacker be handed over to them.

Police made the first arrest in the incident on Wednesday evening, taking into custody a 19-year-old man after they searched his home.

Earlier, New South Wales state police commissioner Karen Webb said police were carefully going through body camera and other surveillance images to identify as many rioters as possible.

"(Police have) some clear indications of whom some of those individuals were and they can expect a knock at the door," Webb told ABC Radio.

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 of criticism, hate and online trolling.

His sermons range from homilies on the Bible to criticisms of homosexuality, COVID vaccinations, Islam and the election of U.S. President Joe Biden.

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