Cops Say Livestreamed Attack on Controversial TikTok Star Was Terrorism

Christ The Good Shepherd Church/AAP via Reuters
Christ The Good Shepherd Church/AAP via Reuters

A knife attack on a bishop and others at a church in Sydney on Monday was a religiously-motivated terrorist act, according to police in Australia.

A 16-year-old boy was restrained and arrested after he allegedly stabbed Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and others at the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley. Footage of the alleged attack, in which at least four people sustained non-life-threatening injuries, captured by a church livestream spread rapidly online, sparking outrage and prompting an angry mob to descend on the place of worship.

Bishop and Worshippers Injured in Livestreamed Stabbing Attack

The suspect was held inside the church for his own safety as hundreds of worshippers assembled outside demanding vengeance. The crowd violently clashed with police, throwing bricks and bottles at officers trying to maintain order. Two officers were hurt—including one who suffered a broken jaw—and 10 police cars were destroyed in the hourslong riot, according to the BBC.

Police have not confirmed reports claiming that the suspect had one of his fingers severed in the incident, though law enforcement did confirm his hand injuries are “severe.” Authorities believe he severed the finger himself, according to The Guardian.

Police have also repeatedly declined to state the religion of the suspect. In a video purportedly filmed in the aftermath of the alleged attack, the boy can be heard saying in Arabic: “If he [the bishop] didn’t get himself involved in my religion, if he hadn’t spoken about my Prophet, I wouldn’t have come here,” the Guardian reports.

The church has named two of the people injured in the attack as a priest, Father Isaac Royel, and bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel. Emmanuel, a popular but controversial church leader whose sermons have racked up millions of views on TikTok, has previously made public comments critical of Islam and the prophet Muhammad. He has also expressed love for the Muslim community and recently spoke of his support for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

In other videos, the 53-year-old bishop also casted doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election and criticized the Democrat’s support for gay rights, according to Reuters. Emmanuel had further called on Donald Trump to stay true to God and admonished him to resist Freemasons’ influence. The preacher’s public comments attacking COVID vaccines and lockdown restrictions during the pandemic helped to fuel his online prominence.

According to Australia’s ABC, the suspect was charged with a series of crimes including possessing a knife in November following an incident at a Sydney train station. His case was reportedly “proven” at a court appearance in January but ultimately dismissed with a good behavior bond—a non-custodial sentence offered in the Australian legal system in which the offender is ordered to stay out of trouble for a specified period and may be subject to other court-imposed conditions.

The boy was no longer subject to court orders or law enforcement supervision at the time of the attack Monday, according to ABC, which also quoted New South Wales Premier Chris Minns as saying that the teen was not on a terrorism watchlist. Minns also told a Sydney radio station that the suspect had been found with a blade at a school in 2020, according to the BBC.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb said there was evidence that there was evident “premeditation” and an attempt to intimidate members of the church with the attack, especially given that it was committed during a livestreamed service. “We believe there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religious motivated extremism,” she said.

Webb also said that those involved in the riot outside the church will be prosecuted.

The church attack came just days after six people were stabbed to death at a Sydney shopping mall. Authorities say the earlier rampage was likely related to the mental health of the culprit—identified as 40-year-old Joel Cauchi—than any ideological motive.

“There is no place for violence in our community,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “There’s no place for violent extremism. We’re a peace-loving nation. This is a time to unite, not divide, as a community, and as a country.”

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