17 Apr 2024

Lebanese Muslim Association says mosques under threat following Sydney church stabbing

8:07 pm on 17 April 2024
Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was stabbed during a service at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Sydney on 15 April 2024.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel. Photo: Screenshot / YouTube

By Sam Nichols, Millie Roberts, and Sean Tarek Goodwin, ABC News

The father of the 16-year-old boy who allegedly stabbed an Assyrian Bishop at a Western Sydney church on Monday night was "shocked" and had not noted signs of extremism in his son, a community leader says.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was allegedly lunged at by the 16-year-old boy during a mass service at Assyrian Orthodox Church, Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley on Monday night.

Lebanese Muslim Association secretary Gamel Kheir told ABC RN's Breakfast he had sat with the family of the teenager the night the stabbing occurred.

He said the father was not aware of any "signs of becoming extreme" beyond being disobedient.

"[The father] was in shock ... he didn't see any telltale signs, so to speak," Kheir said.

The 16-year-old was arrested at the scene and is yet to be charged.

Kheir said the boy had never been a patron at Australia's largest mosque in Western Sydney's Lakemba, which the association oversees.

He questioned whether labelling the stabbing of a bishop in south-west Sydney as a "terror incident" was too quick.

"All we're saying is, surely there was time for police to do a more thorough investigation and a review before they labelled that a terrorist act."

Following the stabbing Kheir said there have been threats to Lakemba Mosque and other mosques across Sydney that "thankfully didn't eventuate".

NSW Police said there were not aware of any active reports or investigations into threats at the place of worship.

'I made that declaration without hesitation'

On Tuesday, state authorities declared the church stabbing a "terrorist incident".

Director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Mike Burgess explained authorities needed indications, information or evidence that suggested "the motivation was religiously motivated or ideologically motivated".

Associate professor Julian Droogan from the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University explained there are two factors to terrorism across broader jurisdictions.

"One aspect of most definitions of terrorism is that the violence is perpetrated as part of a larger cause ... that means the violence itself, while horrific, in the case of terrorism is never an end in itself.

"The horrific terrorist violence is used to leverage some wider issue to create fear, or try to propagandise and recruit people."

The second element, he explained, is choreographing the violence to be broadcast to reach its intended audience.

"So in this case, we see violence that could well have a religious aspect to it and we see violence that was broadcast live ... meaning that those two aspects of terrorism in general look like they could potentially meet this case."

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb told RN Breakfast this morning she was satisfied the incident met the criteria of being a terrorism incident, based on the information she was provided.

This criteria includes the actions of the individual, whether there was a political, religious or ideological cause, and whether it was done with the intention of intimidation.

"I made that declaration without any hesitation," Webb said.

Webb also said it was important to consider that there is a difference between a terrorist incident and a terrorist charge.

"They are two separate things, and they shouldn't be conflated," she said.

Droogan added that the legal definition terrorism can result in more severe penalties and give police greater powers.

"There are some cases also where suspicion of terrorist violence of terrorism can unlock the ability for police and Intelligence to hold and question a person for a longer period of time, or under different circumstances."

However, Droogan said it is a "difficult criteria to meet in NSW", particularly for "lone actors" who have not publicly affiliated themselves with a known terrorist group or entity.

"I think police have to do the best they can to be able to charge an individual appropriately. I think that it's always difficult when ascribing cases to terrorist motivation, and there are dangers in doing so."

He said designating a terrorist act could prevent "cumulative extremism and tit-for-tat violence".

"However, if not, of course there are dangers with ascribing any crime as terroristic."

Muslim community in fear amid rise in Islamophobia

The Islamophobia Register Australia recorded a "significant spike" in reports of incidents, with 46 reported since Saturday.

Executive director Sharara Attai said there was a spike since false speculation that the Bondi attack was perpetrated by a Muslim, and then rose even further after the Wakeley attack.

"We've had bomb threats to mosques, we've had a Muslim woman who had her hijab pulled off, we've had online Islamophobia being reported to us, we've had vandalism and verbal threats," Attai said.

She said Muslim women, in particular, were scared to go out in public due to fears of Islamophobic incidents.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils issued an alert to Muslim leaders in light of "heightened tensions against the Muslim community".

Police Minister Yasmin Catley said extra police officers were deployed last night to patrol areas of Western Sydney following a crowd surge outside the Wakeley church the day before.

On Wednesday, the Race Discrimination Commissioner urged communities to embrace compassion following the two recent stabbing attacks in Sydney.

A meeting of faith leaders yesterday called for peace in all places of worship.

"As faith leaders representing the diverse religious communities of New South Wales, we stand united against all forms of hate and violence," a joint statement said.

Kheir shared the sentiment, saying he wanted harmony and that the wider Australian community must stay "more vigilant and more united than ever".

"We've done 20 years of good work in terms of interfaith dialogue between the different religions in Australia. We get on very, very well with other communities."

Kheir also said the association was committed to providing safe spaces and mentorship with senior counsellors and clerics, and called for assistance in developing these.

This story was originally published by the ABC.

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