Bishop and priest wounded in knife attack at Australian church

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Bishop and priest wounded in knife attack at Australian church

(AP) A teenager has been accused of wounding a Christian bishop and priest during a church service in a second high-profile knife attack to rock Sydney in recent days, leaving communities on edge, leaders calling for calm and a besieged church urging against retaliation.

The 16-year-old was overpowered by the shocked congregation at Christ the Good Shepherd Church after he allegedly stabbed Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and Fr. Isaac Royel during a service on Monday night that was being streamed online.

Police have not commented on reports that the boy’s fingers were severed by parishioners in the Orthodox Assyrian church in suburban Wakeley, but confirmed his hand injuries were “severe.”

Video of the attack spread quickly on social media and an angry mob converged on the church demanding vengeance. They hurled bricks, bottles and fence boards at police, who temporarily barricaded the boy inside the church for his own safety. Many in the crowd chanted “an eye for an eye” and “bring him out.”

Several people including police officers required hospital treatment following the hourslong riot.

The church said in a statement on Tuesday it “denounced retaliation of any kind.” Police stood guard around mosques in parts of Sydney on Tuesday after reports that text messages were circulating urging the Assyrian Christian community to retaliate against Muslims.

Police and community leaders said public anxiety had been heightened by a lone assailant’s knife attack in a Sydney shopping mall on Saturday that killed five women and a male security guard who attempted to intervene. The 40-year-old assailant, Joel Cauchi, had a history of mental illness and trouble with women and a fascination with knives. He was shot dead by police.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urged the public not to take the law into their own hands.

“We understand the distress and concerns that are there in the community, particularly after the tragic event at Bondi Junction on Saturday,” Albanese told reporters, referring to the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping mall.

But it is not acceptable to impede police and injure police doing their duty or to damage police vehicles in a way that we saw last night,” Albanese added.

News South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb on Tuesday declared the church attack a terrorist incident, but not the shopping mall rampage.

The terrorism categorization allows more law enforcement resources to be focused on the crime. The declaration also gives police expanded powers to stop and search people, premises and vehicles without a warrant.

Webb said the teen’s comments and actions pointed to a religious motive for the attack. She didn’t detail the wording of the comments that led her to believe he had been religiously motivated.

Ten Network television reported the boy had told churchgoers who restrained him in Arabic: “If they didn’t insult my Prophet, I wouldn’t have come here.”

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the nation’s main domestic spy agency, and Australian Federal Police have joined state police in a counterterrorism task force to investigate who else was potentially involved.