5 charged for Australian church riot after Assyrian bishop's stabbing

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel is stabbed by a black-clad assailant while delivering a sermon at Christ the Good Shepherd Assyrian Orthodox Church outside Sydney, Australia.
Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel is stabbed by a black-clad assailant while delivering a sermon at Christ the Good Shepherd Assyrian Orthodox Church outside Sydney, Australia. | YouTube/Christ the Good Shepherd Church

Police have charged at least five people for their involvement in a violent protest that broke out at a church in Wakeley, Australia, after the stabbing of an Assyrian bishop while he was preaching a sermon. 

Last Monday, following the stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel of Wakeley's Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd Church, thousands of demonstrators lined the front way of the church to protest the violent incident.  

The demonstration, which turned violent against the police and their emergency vehicles, has led police to search for anyone who engaged in any form of violence against the police's safety force and for those who engaged in other related crimes at the protest. 

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After investigators released images of 12 different men whom they believe were involved in the riot, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that 23-year-old Nikolaj Mikic turned himself in at the Fairfield Police Station this week. He is the fourth man charged with riot-related crimes. He made a court appearance via videolink as he was charged with rioting and attempted aggravated break and enter with intent.

"The defendant's [alleged] participation is where he is seen on CCTV, he grabs a ladder and embarks with another unknown person to break into the church, which police say was an attempt to gain entry into the church, because of the anger that was raised in regards to the attack on the bishop," Sergeant Jacky Lozanoska was quoted as saying during the court meeting.

Magistrate Anthony Spence said the prosecution's case was "very strong" and described the scenes outside the Christ The Good Shepherd Church as "appalling." 

"We all saw that riot occurring and it was disgraceful," Magistrate Spence stated, according to ABC. 

"A lot of violence against police and police cars. … We all saw that on television, the ladder. … And he's accused of being a part of that." 

During his court appearance, Mikic, who owns an air-conditioning business, was not charged with any offenses involving physical harm to a police officer and he was not charged for damage to any police vehicles.

His defense lawyer shared in his argument that the "livestream of the alleged terror attack amid Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel's sermon 'flamed passions'" of community members involved.

If convicted, Mikic would face up to 15 years in jail. He was granted bail under conditions that he would have to report to the police three times per week, abide by a curfew, and can't participate in any events or services held at Christ The Good Shepherd Church. His family posted a $10,000 security.

Prosecutors asked the court not to grant Mikic bail because of tensions "brewing in the community." Sgt. Lozanoska argued that while the stabbing was a heinous crime, the government can't appear to be "condoning or accepting vigilante work."

"[It] was an extraordinary event. … A lot of people attended with the best of intentions and then it got out of hand," Mikic's attorney was quoted as saying.

"He's so young, never been in custody before. … [And] even if he were convicted, while certainly on the cards, it's not inevitable."

Among others charged with crimes related to the riot was a 17-year-old boy who turned himself in at Fairfield Police Station on Tuesday morning, ABC notes. The boy was charged with rioting, destroying or damaging property and possession of an unauthorized pistol.

The teen was refused bail and appeared in juvenile court Wednesday.

Three demonstrators previously charged with riot-related crimes were: Issa Haddad, 28; Dani Mansour, 19; and Sam Haddad, 45. The three were all granted bail.

The 16-year-old boy, who allegedly stabbed 53-year-old bishop Emmanuel, has been charged with a terrorism offense. The boy's identity has not been released.  

On Wednesday, authorities arrested seven teenagers accused of being part of an extremist network that also included the 16-year-old teen charged in the church stabbing, according to The Associated Press. Meanwhile, five other teens were still being questioned by the Joint Counter-Terrorism Team as of late Wednesday. 

With the suspects deemed to be immediate threats, the arrests came as hundreds of police officers executed 13 search warrants of properties across southwest Sydney.

"We will allege that these individuals adhered to a religiously motivated, violent extremist ideology," New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson told media.

"It was considered that the group ... posed an unacceptable risk and threat to the people of New South Wales, and our current purely investigative strategies could not adequately ensure public safety."

Nicole VanDyke is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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