Sydney church attack designated as terrorism sparks debate over rapid response

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17th April 2024 – (Sydney) Australian authorities are facing scrutiny after labelling a violent attack in a Sydney church as an act of terrorism. The incident, which occurred during a livestreamed sermon at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, involved a 16-year-old allegedly stabbing Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel. The bishop sustained injuries to his head and chest and is currently receiving treatment in a hospital.

The designation of the attack as terrorism by New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb followed swiftly after the event, provoking mixed reactions from community leaders and the public. The 2002 legislation under which the decision was made defines a terrorist act as one that aims to intimidate the public and is motivated by political, religious, or ideological causes.

Commissioner Webb defended the decision, stating it was in strict accordance with state law and that the criteria for a terrorism act were met. “I made that declaration without hesitation,” she affirmed.

However, the rapid classification has stirred controversy, especially among local community leaders. Gamel Kheir, secretary of the Lebanese Muslim Association, criticised the swift judgment, suggesting that the police might have “jumped the gun.” He argued that the community perceives the term ‘terrorism’ differently, and pointed to a recent knife attack in a Sydney mall that, in his view, more closely resembled what the public would consider terrorism.

The aftermath of the church attack also saw disturbances, with a riot breaking out as congregants and community members expressed their anger, some resorting to throwing rocks at police officers.

In light of the terrorism designation, a joint counterterrorism task force has been established, involving state and federal police alongside the intelligence service ASIO. This move indicates a serious approach to the investigation, which seeks to uncover the motivations behind the teenager’s actions.

The controversy extends to political figures as well. Dai Le, a local member of parliament, voiced her concern about the quickness of the terrorism declaration, fearing it might exacerbate already tense relations within the area’s diverse religious community.

The incident has led to increased security measures at key religious sites, including Lakemba Mosque, amid threats and heightened public attention.