Sydney bishop forgives alleged attacker after church stabbing, calls for ‘Christlike’ response

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Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel makes his first comments from hospital where he is being treated

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel has forgiven his alleged attacker in his first public comments since he was stabbed on Monday while delivering a sermon at a church in western Sydney.

He called for his supporters not to retaliate over the attack but to behave “Christlike”.

The 53-year-old bishop has been in hospital since he was allegedly stabbed by a 16-year-old boy during a livestreamed service at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church in Wakeley on Monday evening.

A 39-year-old priest was also allegedly stabbed after trying to intervene, according to police. He and the bishop were expected to recover after undergoing surgery.

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The New South Wales police and state government are treating the alleged stabbing as an act of terrorism.

The episode triggered a riot outside the church allegedly involving violence towards police and paramedics.

The church on Thursday released an audio statement from Emmanuel in which the bishop, speaking from his hospital bed, said he was recovering well and that he was praying for his alleged attacker.

“I forgive whoever has done this act,” he said. “And I say to him, ‘You’re my son. I love you and I will always pray for you.’

“And whoever sent you to do this, I forgive them as well in Jesus’s mighty name.

“I have nothing in my heart but love for everyone. Whether that person is a Christian or not, it’s totally beside the point.”

He called on his supporters to pray instead of retaliate: “There is no need to be worried or concerned. And a piece of advice to all our beloved faithfuls – I need you to act Christlike.

“The Lord Jesus never taught us to fight, the Lord Jesus never taught us to retaliate, the Lord Jesus never said to us ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.”

The premier, Chris Minns, praised the bishop for his “big-hearted message”.

“Forgiveness and the renunciation of violence is exactly the message we need to hear in Sydney,” Minns told reporters on Thursday.

The teenager who allegedly stabbed Emmanuel was taken to hospital at an undisclosed location where he remained under police guard after undergoing surgery for injuries he sustained during the alleged attack.

Emmanuel, who has a popular online presence and a large following, has previously criticised Islam and the prophet Muhammad in public sermons.

In a video reportedly filmed in the wake of the alleged attack, the alleged attacker could 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 … if he just spoke about his own religion, I wouldn’t have come.”

Jamal Rifi, a well-known doctor in Sydney’s west who has been speaking to media on behalf of the teenager’s family, said the teen struggled with anger management and had gone from a “gentle boy into someone who’s aggressive and lashing out”.

Rifi said the teenager’s family was “shocked and in disbelief” at what he had allegedly done and that his mother described him as a strong believer in his own Islamic faith without being “fanatical”.

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Rifi said the teen’s mother and others in the community were “upset” that the alleged attack had been labelled an act of terrorism when the mass-stabbing in Bondi Junction stabbing two days earlier was not being treated in the same way.

“The feeling in south-western Sydney right now its that these two events were treated differently,” Rifi told ABC radio on Thursday.

The NSW police commissioner, Karen Webb, has not revealed any precise motive for the alleged attack. She said earlier in the week that police believed “there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religious-motivated extremism”.

The decision by police to declare the alleged attack an act of terrorism gives counter-terrorism police extraordinary powers under NSW laws to investigate, as well as conduct searches to prevent any further suspected attacks.

The premier has defended their decision as “necessary”.

Webb on Thursday said police had not yet had the opportunity to speak to the teenager.

“When the doctors clear him, we’ll be able to talk to him,” she said.

NSW police on Thursday expanded its investigation into the riot that broke out after the alleged attack, after identifying and charging a 19-year-old man on Wednesday night who they allege was involved.

Webb said a strike force was reviewing 600 hours of footage taken on the night in an effort to identify and arrest an estimated 50 rioters, some of whom the commissioner said had disguised themselves or covered their faces.

“As soon as they are identified, they will be arrested,” Webb said on Thursday.

The NSW government will consider tougher knife crime laws after the alleged church attack and the fatal Bondi Junction stabbing spree that occurred just two days earlier.

The premier on Thursday said the NSW sentencing council – the independent body that advises the attorney general – was looking at knife-related offences and would report back to government.

Police minister, Yasmin Catley, on Thursday said the government was also open to expanding police stop-and-search powers or allowing officers to use handheld metal detectors.