NSW Premier Chris Minns has confirmed the stabbing of an Assyrian Orthodox clergyman in Wakeley last night was a “terrorist act,” after convening a council of religious and community leaders overnight to call for calm.

Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, who rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic for his fiery YouTube sermons, was stabbed at the altar of Christ the Good Shepherd church in Wakeley at 7:10pm on Monday 15 April.

According to the church’s social media, Mar Emmanuel was conducting an Assyrian Bible preaching event when the attack occurred.

- Advertisement -

In a now-removed livestream, a man in dark clothing approaches the altar and stabs Mar Emmanuel multiple times before congregants rush up to stop the attack. Terrified screams could be heard before the stream was ended and deleted.

The 16-year-old attacker was quickly restrained by the congregation, some of whom were injured in the attempt.

A statement from Christ the Good Shepherd Church also said a second priest, Fr Isaac Royel, was also attacked.

A still from the now-deleted livestream.

The attacker in turn suffered severe injuries from the angry crowd that quickly formed, with police confirming earlier social media photos and rumours that at least one of his fingers was severed.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said this morning at a press conference with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that police will allege the attack was “religiously motivated.”

NSW Police said the attacker had been restrained prior to their arrival, and was arrested and taken to an “undisclosed location.”

An estimated 2000 men quickly converged on the church after the attack, with police responding by deploying the riot squad. In the ensuing brawl police cars and other vehicles were smashed.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

Catholic Weekly photographer Giovanni Portelli, who was on the scene as the riot hit its peak from 9pm, saw police wielding shotguns and assault rifles deployed to the church as tensions rose.

Batons and pepper spray were used to disperse the crowd around 10:15pm. Two police officers were injured, after being hit with bricks, fence palings and other debris, and several police cars were destroyed.

Paramedics treated Mar Emmanuel at the scene, later taking him to Liverpool Hospital where he was reportedly recovering well from non-life-threatening injuries.

Members of the community were still cleaning up broken glass, smashed cars and debris from the attack this morning, with the church closed.

NSW Premier Chris Minns and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have both called for calm, with Minns convening a meeting of Western Sydney faith leaders in the immediate aftermath of the stabbing and riot.

“[C]ommunity leaders endorsed and supported a unanimous condemnation of violence in any form, called for the community to follow first responder and police instructions and called for calm in the community,” Minns posted on X.

“We’re calling on everyone to act with kindness and respect for each other. Now is the time to show that we are strong and united as a NSW community.”

Minns met with Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, President of the Lebanese Muslim Association Hafez Alemeddine, Melkite Bishop Robert Rabbat, President of the Australian National Imans Council, Sheikh Shadi Alsuleiman, and Archbishop of the Assyrian Community, Archbishop Zaia Mar Malis.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

Police and government representatives, including NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper, were also present.

Shortly after the attack, the Australian National Imams Council posted a statement condemning the attack on Mar Emmanuel.

“These attacks are horrifying and have no place in Australia, particularly at places of worship and toward religious leaders,” the statement said.

The federal member of parliament for McMahon, Chris Bowen, said on X that “such violence has no place in any community.”

Parishioners clean up outside the church on Tuesday morning. Photo: George Al-Akiki

“We stand in solidarity with the Assyrian community, condemning this heinous act, and sending strength for a swift recovery to Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and others who were victims of this attack.

“Western Sydney is united in standing against all forms of hatred and violence. Thank you to the service men and women who are assisting our community at this difficult time.”

Local Cumberland Councillor Steve Christou told The Catholic Weekly that he was “shocked and very disappointed at this attack on a man of faith.”

“What’s happened in the last few days is very concerning, and we’re going to have to have a long, hard look at the laws in NSW.

“It’s something we’re going to have to do is get together as political leaders, and start addressing how we’re going to make tougher laws.”

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

Mar Emmanuel was formerly a Bishop of the Assyrian Ancient Church of the East, before establishing Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley.

According to Atlas News, he is no longer listed among the clergy of the Assyrian Church’s Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon as of March 2023.

The stabbing attack comes mere days after a knife attack in Bondi Junction that left six dead.